While popular accounts of the depletion of the ozone layer and the increase in UV-B reaching the Earth’s surface have highlighted the direct danger to humans, including an increase in the incidence of skin cancer and eye damage, less attention has been given to the effects on plants and the associated indirect effects upon us.
Plants and UV-B arose from seminars held at the 1996 annual meeting of the Society for Experimental Biology in Lancaster, England. It is a comprehensive look at current research on the effects of UV-B on plants. The book is a collection of papers organized into three sections. The first part consists of three papers on the ozone layer and UV-B radiation. The second part is a collection of papers on the effects of UV-B at the cellular level and the third and final part contains those papers on the effects of UV-B at the whole plant and community level.
The first section begins with observations by J. A. Pyle on the history and causes of ozone depletion and continues with papers on monitoring UV-B radiation and on the action spectra for UV-B in plants. UV-B effects at the cellular level are discussed in 6 papers which cover key issues, including DNA damage and repair, photosynthesis, and photoinhibition. The final section includes 8 papers which discuss the effects of UV-B on aquatic ecosystems, field crops, agro- and forest ecosystems, heathlands, and subarctic communities. The book concludes with a paper by M. M. Caldwell on alterations in competitive balance and a paper by N. D. Paul on interactions between trophic levels.
The collection of papers presented is an excellent choice, covering a broad range of work. The range of approaches, from biochemical and cellular studies to discussion of ecological effects, represents the best of a modern, integrative approach to biology. The selection of papers not only describes what is known but also highlights the incomplete state of our current knowledge on the effects of UV-B on plants. For example, the paper on UV-B perception and signal transduction by Jenkins, Fuglevand, and Christie makes clear that we have yet to fully understand the identity of the blue light and UV-B receptor molecules, and the details of the signaling which results. Imagine if our knowledge of visual photoreceptors and signaling in humans were so incomplete! Björn and coworkers point out the incomplete state of knowledge of the effects of UV-B on ecosystems with the statement: "Before our field experiments in Northern Scandinavia were started in 1991, no experiment had been conducted in which a natural ecosystem with plants, animals, and microorganisms was exposed to increased UV-B".
Plants and UV-B is a fascinating volume, as much for its ability to highlight the gaps in current knowledge as for its broad and integrative approach. By raising so many questions, it should serve as a catalyst for much future work. I highly recommend it for plant biologists and for graduate students who are interested in biochemistry, physiology, ecology, and environmental sciences. - Thomas J. Herbert, Department of Biology, University of Miami, Coral Gables.