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Local extent of old-growth woodland modifies epiphyte response to climate change


*Christopher Ellis, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, 20A Inverleith Row, Edinburgh EH3 5LR, UK. E-mail:


Aim  To quantify the interaction between climate and woodland continuity in determining the bioclimatic response of lichen epiphytes.

Location  Northern Britain (Scotland).

Methods  Indicator-species analysis was used to pre-select lichen epiphytes along parallel gradients in climate and the extent of old-growth woodland. Nonparametric multiplicative regression was used to describe in a predictive model the individualistic response of selected species, which were projected based on climate-change scenarios and contrasting patterns of simulated woodland loss or gain. Species with a similar response were grouped using a novel application of cluster analysis to summarize the potentially huge number of projected outcomes. Projected patterns of occurrence under climate-change scenarios were examined for different levels of old-growth woodland extent.

Results  Forty-two lichen species were statistically significant indicator species in oceanic woodlands, and old-growth indicators under suboptimal climatic conditions. Responses to climate-change scenarios were contrasting, with one group comprising species projected to increase in extent in response to climate warming, and other response groups projected to decrease in occurrence, possibly in response to shifting rainfall patterns. The occurrence of all response groups had a positive relationship with old-growth woodland extent.

Main conclusions  An ‘oceanic’ biogeographical group of epiphytes identified using the baseline climatic and present-day woodland setting comprised species with a cyanobacterial photobiont or tropical phytogeographical affinities. However, within this group the individual species responses to climate-change scenarios were contrasting. Additionally, group responses may be poorly matched with simple ecological traits. However, the studied interaction between climate and habitat continuity suggests that the impact of climate change might be offset for certain lichen epiphytes by appropriate management of woodland resources, for example, expansion of native woodland around remnant old-growth stands.