New paper out – Diterpenoid fingerprints in pine foliage across an environmental and chemotypic matrix: Isoabienol content is a key trait differentiating chemotypes

Text by Lauri Laanisto

Intraspecific variability in functional traits has emerged in recent years as a quite important phenomenon. At least in plant ecology. Traditional view in life sciences has promoted between-species differences as much more significant drivers of ecological processes than within-species differences. Even though already Darwin pointed out that competition for resources is the fiercest within a population – individuals with the same niche fighting over the same stuff.

The current trends in trait-based ecology favor big data. It is logical to take as much data as possible and put all the numbers into one model and see if any general patterns emerge. Makes sense. But at least in the purely ecological studies, this approach to intraspecific trait variability has not really worked. In many cases, one being within-species variability, we should maybe use a deeper-going approach. And have smaller, but more insightful datasets than let´s say community weighted means. Angela Moles just published a very nice essay review about it.

In its own way, this study is very insightful in the context of intraspecific funcational variability. The way how VOC emissions of Pinus sylvestris depend on genetics, epigenetics and also phenotypically because of variable environmental conditions. And how these different sources of intraspecific variability might be related. So much questions in this regard are still unanswered…

Citation: Kännaste, A., Laanisto, L., Pazouki, L., Copolovici, L., Suhorutšenko, M., Azeem, M., Toom, L., Borg-Karlson, A.-K. & Niinemets, Ü. (2018). Diterpenoid fingerprints in pine foliage across an environmental and chemotypic matrix: Isoabienol content is a key trait differentiating chemotypes. Phytochemistry, 147, 80-88. (link to full text)


Graphical abstract of the study (from here)



• Isoabienol was the main diterpenoid alcohol in pine samples.
• Based on diterpenoid profiles we distinguished pine chemotypes.
• Needle contents of certain diterpenoids were related to foliar nitrogen contents.
• ‘Manoyl oxide – isoabienol pines’ were characteristic only to wetlands.


Diterpenoids constitute an important part of oleoresin in conifer needles, but the environmental and genetic controls on diterpenoid composition are poorly known. We studied the presence of diterpenoids in four pine populations spanning an extensive range of nitrogen (N) availability. In most samples, isoabienol was the main diterpenoid. Additionally, low contents of (Z)-biformene, abietadiene isomers, manoyl oxide isomers, labda-7,13,14-triene and labda-7,14-dien-13-ol were quantified in pine needles. According to the occurrence and content of diterpenoids it was possible to distinguish ‘non diterpenoid pines’, ‘high isoabienol pines’, ‘manoyl oxide – isoabienol pines’ and ‘other diterpenoid pines’. ‘Non diterpenoid pines’, ‘high isoabienol pines’ and ‘other diterpenoid pines’ were characteristic to the dry forest, yet the majority of pines (>80%) of the bog Laeva represented ‘high isoabienol pines’. ‘Manoyl oxide – isoabienol pines’ were present only in the wet sites. Additionally, orthogonal partial least-squares analysis showed, that in the bogs foliar nitrogen content per dry mass (NM) correlated to diterpenoids. Significant correlations existed between abietadienes, isoabienol and foliar NM in ‘manoyl oxide – isoabienol pines’, and chemotypic variation was also associated by population genetic distance estimated by nuclear microsatellite markers. Previously, the presence of low and high Δ-3-carene pines has been demonstrated, but the results of the current study indicate that also diterpenoids form an independent axis of chemotypic differentiation. Further studies are needed to understand whether the enhanced abundance of diterpenoids in wetter sites reflects a phenotypic or genotypic response.

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