- •Relationships between nitrogen deposition in the UK and phosphomonoesterase (PME) activity and nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) concentrations in Cladonia portentosa were quantified to understand factors limiting lichen growth and to further develop biomarkers for N pollution.
- •Lichen was collected from sites differing either in rates of wet N (NH4+ + NO3−) deposition or in annual mean N concentration in rainfall based on both measured and modelled data sets. The PME activity, and total N and P concentrations were measured in specific horizontal strata in lichen mats and PME activity in the thallus was located using an enzyme-labelled fluorescent phosphatase substrate.
- •With an increase in modelled N deposition from 4.1 to 32.8 kg N ha−1 yr−1, PME activity, thallus N and N : P ratio increased by factors of 2.3, 1.4 and 1.8, respectively. Correlations with modelled data were generally stronger than with measured data and those with N deposition were stronger than those with N concentration in rainfall. The PME activity was located solely in the lichen fungus in outer regions of the thallus.
- •Nitrogen enrichment changes lichen N : P ratios from values typical of N limitation (for example, 10) to those indicative of P limitation (for example, 26) driving upregulation of PME activity.