Résumé : The aim of this study was to understand the contribution of Linear Alkylbenzene Sulfonates (LAS) to the decline of Mediterranean coastal forest exposed to marine aerosols. LAS are a group of synthetic anionic surfactants widely used in the composition of household or industrial detergents and agrochemicals. This study was part of a large project (RISICO) aiming the assessment of the environmental impact of the LAS at multiple levels: biodegradation in the coastal waters, sorption – desorption processes in the sediments, toxicity to the aquatic life and toxicity to the coastal forest (by aerosolisation of the sea water).

Previous studies pointed out this group of surfactants as the main cause of the coastal forest decline. However, the quantification of this surfactant in the environmental samples (mainly sea water and foliar deposition) was done using non-specific analytical methods as methylene blue active substances (MBAS), leading to overestimation of the environmental concentrations of LAS.

The work hypothesis was that at actual environmental concentrations, the LAS does not play a key role in the foliar uptake of the sea salt deposited on the coastal vegetation by the marine aerosols, therefore the LAS may not be the main cause of the coastal forest decline.

The research involved both greenhouse experiments and field measurements. The experimental work was conducted on young Mediterranean trees (Laurus nobilis L., Quercus ilex L. and Pinus halepensis P. Mill.) and investigated the synergistic toxic effects of exposure to simulated marine aerosol contaminated with surfactants. An array of endpoints was used including photosynthetic activity, relative water content, foliar deposition and uptake of salt and LAS, and pigments analysis. The results of those experiments revealed that LAS itself did not have phytotoxic effects. Nevertheless, the surfactant was shown to enhance the foliar uptake of the salt in the tested species, especially in Pinus halepensis, confirming the conclusions of previous studies regarding the sensitivity of this species to polluted marine aerosols.

The field work was conducted in San Rossore National Park (Italy) and Porquerolles Island (France) and was focused on evaluating the health status of the Mediterranean forest (Quercus ilex L., Pinus halepensis Mill. and Pinus pinaster Aiton.) and also on quantification of LAS in coastal aerosols using highly specific analytical methods, like the mass spectrometry (MS). The frequencies and extent of injuries in the coastal trees were found to be correlated to the salt but not with the LAS content of the leaves. The concentrations of LAS in the Pinus and Quercus leaves were comparable in the two studied sites but the concentrations of salt were extremely high in San Rossore, suggesting that other factors may determine the excessive salt foliar uptake. The parallel MS and MBAS carried out in the same set of aerosol samples revealed that MBAS measurements were not relevant for LAS concentrations in the marine aerosols. Projecting the experimental results to the real LAS and salt exposure of the coastal forest, we concluded that LAS may play a marginal role in coastal vegetation decline.