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Contrasting functional traits maintain lichen epiphyte diversity in response to climate and autogenic succession


*Christopher J. Ellis, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), 20A Inverleith Row, Edinburgh EH3 5LR, UK.


Aim  Lichen epiphytes are important for biodiversity conservation and are also widely applied as environmental indicators. However, biogeographical and ecological knowledge underpinning lichen epiphyte conservation, and the use of lichens as indicators, is based primarily on a limited range of ‘macrolichen’ species. Wider trends in epiphyte biodiversity remain largely unexplored. This paper examines the community structure of lichen epiphytes on aspen (Populus tremula L.) in Scotland, including species across all functional groups and comprising, therefore, taxonomically difficult ‘microlichens’.

Location  Northern Britain (Scotland).

Methods  Epiphytes were sampled from 12 sites throughout Scotland and examined at two scales: between and within aspen stands. Species were classified into contrasting functional groups and ordination by detrended correspondence analysis was used to summarize community structure.

Results  Within aspen stands (between trees) epiphyte communities showed successional patterns related to tree age. These successional patterns changed predictably for stands aligned along a climatic gradient (between stands).

Main conclusions  A dual climatic–successional trend in epiphyte community structure is presented. Large-scale trends in epiphyte diversity are explained as the local response of species with contrasting functional traits to climate and autogenic succession. Turnover of functional groups between stands is positively related to β-diversity, and ecological limits to the frequency of contrasting functional groups are presented. Accordingly, the study and application of lichen species with similar functional traits may inadequately represent patterns of biodiversity. This prompts criticism of the currently accepted conservation strategy, i.e. (1) an emphasis in the conservation literature on ‘macrolichen’ species with similar ecologies and (2) the application of lichen indices over climatically variable geographical areas.