U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

Volatile Monoterpene ‘Fingerprints’ of Resinous Protium Tree Species in the Amazon Rainforest
Published: February 01, 2019
Posted: April 22, 2019

Tree resin monoterpene ‘fingerprints’ in terrestrial ecosystems.

The Science
The Amazon forest, with vast biodiversity and territorial extension, cycles more carbon and water than any other terrestrial ecosystem on the planet. However, understanding the tree species and chemical composition of this rich biodiversity and how its products can sustainably benefit humans remains a major challenge. In this study, researchers from LBNL present a new rapid field collection technique to characterize the composition of monoterpenes present in stem resins of 77 Protium individuals across 15 species in a primary rainforest ecosystem in the central Amazon rainforest. By normalizing the monoterpenes present in each tree sample by the most abundant monoterpene, they generated a database of monoterpene ‘fingerprints’ which allowed us to compare across individuals and species. From this analysis, 9 types of monoterpene ‘fingerprint’ patterns emerged, characterized by a distinct dominant monoterpene.

The Impact
The results are consistent with a previous study that found at least five divergent copies of monoterpene synthase enzymes in Protium, and suggest that each of the 9 monoterpene ‘fingerprint’ types may be determined by the presence of a distinct monoterpene synthase enzyme. A comparison of monoterpene ‘fingerprints’ between years from the same individuals showed excellent agreement, suggesting that the ‘fingerprints’ are highly sensitive to the individual/species, but show relatively low annual variability. They therefore conclude that Protium monoterpene ‘fingerprints’ show a strong dependence on species identity, but not time of collection.

This study suggests that the presented method can be used to help constrain the identity of unknown Protium species and therefore be used as a new tool in resinous tree chemotaxonomy. By characterizing the composition of monoterpene resins among Protium species in the central Amazon, the results will contribute to future Protium studies on plant-microbe and plant-insect interactions, phylogenetic relationships and evolutionary histories, atmospheric chemistry and land-surface climate interactions, and commercial uses of resins. Finally, knowledge of the distribution of specific monoterpene ‘fingerprints’ among Protium tree species will contribute to the conservation, management, and sustainable use of tropical ecosystems .

Volatile terpenoid resins represent a diverse group of plant defense chemicals involved in defense against herbivory, abiotic stress, and communication. However, their composition in tropical forests remains poorly characterized. As a part of tree identification, the ‘smell’ of damaged trunks is widely used, but is highly subjective. Here, researchers from LBNL analyzed trunk volatile monoterpene emissions from 15 species of the genus Protium in the central Amazon. By normalizing the abundances of 28 monoterpenes, 9 monoterpene ‘fingerprint’ patterns emerged, characterized by a distinct dominant monoterpene. While 4 of the ‘fingerprint’ patterns were composed of multiple species, 5 were composed of a single species. Moreover, among individuals of the same species, 6 species had a single ‘fingerprint’ pattern, while 9 species had two or more ‘fingerprint’ patterns among individuals. A comparison of ‘fingerprints’ between 2015 and 2017 from 15 individuals generally showed excellent agreement, demonstrating a strong dependence on species identity, but not time of collection. The results are consistent with a previous study that found multiple divergent copies of monoterpene synthase enzymes in Protium. They conclude that the monoterpene ‘fingerprint’ database has important implications for constraining Protium species identification and phylogenetic relationships and enhancing understanding of physiological and ecological functions of resins and their potential commercial applications.

Contacts (BER PM)
Daniel Stover
Terrestrial Ecosystem Science

(PI Contact)
Kolby J. Jardine
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), Climate and Ecosystem Sciences Division

This material is based upon work supported as part of the Next Generation Ecosystem Experiments-Tropics (NGEE-Tropics) funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research through contract No. DE-AC02-05CH11231 to LBNL, as part of DOE's Terrestrial Ecosystem Science Program. Additional funding for this research was provided by the Brazilian Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq).

Piva L, K. Jardine, B. Gimenez, V. Menezes, F. Durgante, L. Cobello, N. Higuchi, and J. Chambers. Volatile monoterpene ‘fingerprints’ of resinous Protium tree species in the Amazon Rainforest.” Phytochemistry 160, 61-70 (2019). [10.1016/j.phytochem.2019.01.014]

Related Links
Paper: Figure 1

Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: Terrestrial Ecosystem Science
  • Research Area: Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments (NGEE)

Division: SC-23.1 Climate and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Aug 24, 2019
New Approach for Studying How Microbes Influence Their Environment
A diverse group of scientists suggests a common framework and targeting of known microbial processes [more...]

Aug 08, 2019
Nutrient-Hungry Peatland Microbes Reduce Carbon Loss Under Warmer Conditions
Enzyme production in peatlands reduces carbon lost to respiration under future high temperatures. [more...]

Aug 05, 2019
Amazon Forest Response to CO2 Fertilization Dependent on Plant Phosphorus Acquisition
AmazonFACE Model Intercomparison. The Science Plant growth is dependent on the availabi [more...]

Jul 29, 2019
A Slippery Slope: Soil Carbon Destabilization
Carbon gain or loss depends on the balance between competing biological, chemical, and physical reac [more...]

Jul 15, 2019
Field Evaluation of Gas Analyzers for Measuring Ecosystem Fluxes
How gas analyzer type and correction method impact measured fluxes. The Science A side- [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)