Phosphorus Fertilization Increases the Abundance and Nitrogenase Activity of the Cyanolichen Pseudocyphellaria crocata in Hawaiian Montane Forests


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Nitrogen-fixing epiphytes (especially lichens with a cyanobacterial symbiont—cyanolichens) have the potential to contribute significant amounts of nitrogen (N) to montane tropical forests, which are typically low in N—but the factors controlling the abundance and distribution of epiphytic cyanolichens are poorly understood. In long-term fertilization experiments in montane forests on a 4.l million-yr-old Oxisol on the island of Kauà'i and on a 152-yr-old lava flow on the island of Hawai'i, the epiphytic cyanolichen Pseudocyphellaria crocata increased significantly in abundance in canopies of host trees fertilized with phosphorus (P). There was no response to fertilization with N or other essential elements. Nitrogen-fixation rates were also elevated in lichens in P-fertilized plots at both sites. Phosphorus supply to host trees may be an important factor controlling N inputs to montane tropical forests by N-fixing epiphytes.