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J Chem Ecol. 2003 Mar;29(3):703-30.

Linking chemical reactivity and protein precipitation to structural characteristics of foliar tannins.

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  • 1Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, University of California, One Shields Avenue, Davis, California 95616, USA.


Tannins influence ecosystem function by affecting decomposition rates, nutrient cycling, and herbivory. To determine the role of tannins in ecological processes, it is important to quantify their abundance and understand how structural properties affect reactivity. In this study, purified tannins from the foliage of nine species growing in the pygmy forest of the northern California coast were examined for chemical reactivity, protein precipitation capacity (PPC), and structural characteristics (13C NMR). Reactivity of purified tannins varied among species 1.5-fold for the Folin total phenol assay, and 7-fold and 3-fold, respectively, for the acid butanol and vanillin condensed tannin assays. There was about a 5-fold difference in PPC. Variation in chemical reactivity and PPC can be largely explained by differences in structural characteristics of the tannins determined by 13C NMR. In particular, the condensed versus hydrolyzable tannin content, as well as the hydroxylation pattern of the B-ring and stereochemistry at the C-2-C-3 position appear to influence reactivity. Due to the large differences in chemical reactivity among species, it is necessary to use a well-characterized purified tannin from the species of interest to convert assay values to concentrations. Our results suggest that structural characteristics of tannins play an important role in regulating their reactivity in ecological processes.

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