Abstract. Mechanisms of plant protection and acclimation to potentially damaging solar ultraviolet-B (UV-B, 280-320 nm) radiation incident on the Earth's surface were examined in Oenothera stricta. Attenuation of this radiation in the upper leaf epidermis reduces the penetration of UV-B radiation to the mesophyll where damage to physiologically sensitive targets can occur. The epidermis is a highly selective radiation filter that can attenuate up to 95% of the incident UV-B radiation and yet transmit between 70% and 80% of the visible radiation. Exposure to UV-B radiation significantly reduced the degree of epidermal UV-B transmittance by as much as 33%. No significant reduction in epidermal transmittance of visible radiation was observed as a result of UV-B exposure. The plasticity in epidermal UV-B transmittance results from production of flavonoid and related phenolic compounds in the tissue. Absorbance of UV-B radiation in flavonoid extract solutions from epidermal and mesophyll tissues significantly increased by as much as 100% and 35%, respectively, after exposure to UV-B radiation. Photosynthetic rates of leaves exposed to UV-B radiation were not significantly reduced at dose rates representative of the radiation flux found in the habitat of this species, but significant photosynthetic depression was observed at does rates that exceed the field UV-B flux. The phenotypic plasticity in epidermal UV-B transmittance resulting in decreased penetration of damaging UV-B radiation to the mesophyll may reduce the rate of damage to a level where repair mechanisms can keep pace with reduced injury.
This research was supported by grants from the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NAS-9-14871).