UV-B absorbing compounds in modern Cedrus atlantica pollen: The potential for a summer UV-B proxy for Northwest Africa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • External authors:
  • Alistair W. Seddon
  • Rachid Ilmen


Sporopollenin is a complex biopolymer which is the main component of the pollen grain exine and is partly composed of the aromatic compounds para-coumaric acid (pCA) and ferulic acid (FA). These compounds absorb ultraviolet-B radiation (UV-B 280 – 315 nm) and their abundance in pollen and spores has been shown to increase in response to increased UV-B flux. Here, we show that the relative abundance of UV-B absorbing compounds (UACs) measured using Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometry (FTIR) in modern pollen of autumn-pollinating Cedrus atlantica trees, increases in response to summer UV-B flux. This relationship was observed in native Moroccan samples (r2 = 0.84, p < 0.0001), but not across a larger environmental gradient including non-Moroccan samples (r2 = 0.00, p = 0.99). For non-Moroccan samples of known provenance, the abundance of UACs is similar to the abundance of UACs found in samples from their place of origin. The FTIR spectra of these samples also closely resemble the FTIR spectra of samples from their place of origin. This unexpected finding suggests there could be a heritable component to UAC production possibly associated with epigenetic memory, an important adaptive mechanism in conifers. Our results indicate that the relative abundance of UACs in Cedrus atlantica pollen could be used as a proxy to reconstruct historic summer UV-B flux in Northwest Africa during at least the Holocene and Late Glacial period, while also highlighting how UV-B proxies should be established using pollen samples from specimens growing in their native range or environment.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Holocene
Early online date11 Jun 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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