Mollusc grazing may constrain the ecological niche of the old forest lichen Pseudocyphellaria crocata


  • Editor
    J. Knops

Y. Gauslaa, Department of Ecology and Natural Resource Management, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, PO Box 5003, NO-1432 Ås, Norway.


This study reports on mollusc grazing of two epiphytic cyanobacterial lichens (Pseudocyphellaria crocata and Lobaria pulmonaria) transplanted within three Picea abies-dominated boreal rain forest stands (clear-cut, young and old forests) in west central Norway. Grazing was particularly high in transplants located in the old forest and was almost absent in clear-cut transplants. Grazing marks were absent on natural thalli on nearby spruce twigs (required creeping distance for mollusc from the ground >4 m). Transplantation of lichens from twigs to artificial transplantation frames reduced the creeping distance to 1.2 m, and caused a significant increase in grazing damage in P. crocata. Given a paired choice under transplantation, molluscs consistently preferred P. crocata and avoided L. pulmonaria, implying species-specific differences in herbivore defence. Pseudocyphellaria crocata has a much lower content of the medullary depsidones stictic and constictic acid than L. pulmonaria. Heavy grazing occurred in the P. crocata thalli lowest in these two depsidones. The upper part of the medulla hosting the photobiont was the preferred fodder for grazing molluscs. Molluscs avoided the yellow soralia in P. crocata (localised pulvinic acid), suggesting a role for pulvinic acid in preventing grazing of detached soredia and early establishment stages. The preference of P. crocata for thin spruce twigs is probably a result of a lower grazing pressure on twigs compared to e.g. deciduous stems that frequently support the better defended L. pulmonaria. Ongoing climate changes with increased annual rainfall and milder winters have presumably increased mollusc grazing, particularly in SW parts of Norway which have more species of lichen-feeding molluscs than the boreal sites studied. These temperate areas lacking natural spruce populations have recently experienced reported extinctions of the poorly defended P. crocata from rocks and deciduous stems prone to mollusc grazing. Lichen-feeding molluscs have likely played a role in these extinctions, causing spruce twigs in Atlantic boreal forests to be a last strong foothold for P. crocata in Scandinavia.