The concept of critical load (CL) was defined to express the tolerance of natural and semi-natural habitats for anthropogenic air pollution. Correct evaluation of the exceedance of critical loads is fundamental for the long-term protection of ecosystems by limiting emissions of potential acidifying and eutrophying pollutants. For forest ecosystems, the exceedance of critical loads is often calculated using deposition data measured in the forest interior. However, several studies report forest edges acting as ‘hotspots’ of acidifying and nitrogen deposition, showing up to fourfold increases in atmospheric deposition compared to the forest interior. This paper estimates the relevance of considering the higher deposition load in forest edges for calculating exceedance of critical loads for nitrogen and potential acidifying deposition. If measures to control and reduce atmospheric deposition are based on mean deposition fluxes within forest stands, deposition reductions will not be enough for preventing adverse effects. In fact, emission reductions should be adjusted to deposition values at the forest edge, since these zones are most threatened. We thus conclude that there is an urgent need to reconsider the calculation of exceedance of critical loads, taking into account edge enhancement of deposition. This is an issue of high relevance, particularly in highly fragmented regions, such as Flanders (Belgium).
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