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Changing climate and historic-woodland structure interact to control species diversity of the 'Lobarion' epiphyte community in Scotland

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Question: How will changing climate and habitat structure interact to control the species diversity of lichen epiphytes?

Location: Scotland.

Method: Species richness (=diversity) of the epiphyte lichen community known as Lobarion (named after Lobaria pulmonaria) was quantified for 94 Populus tremula stands across Scotland, and compared in a predictive model to seven climate variables and eight measures of woodland structure. An optimum model was selected and used to project Lobarion diversity over the geographic range of the study area, based on IPCC climate change scenarios and hypothetical shifts in woodland structure.

Results: Species diversity of the Lobarion community was best explained by three climate variables: (1) average annual temperature; (2) autumn and winter precipitation; in combination with (3) historic-woodland extent. Projections indicate a positive effect of predicted climate change on Lobarion diversity, consistent with the physiological traits of cyanobacterial lichens comprising the Lobarion. However, the general response to climate is modified significantly by the effect on diversity of historic-woodland extent.

Conclusions: Historic-woodland extent may exert an important control over local climate, as well as impacting upon the metapopulation dynamics of species in the Lobarion. In particular, a temporal delay in the response of Lobarion species to changed woodland structure is critical to our understanding of future climate change effects. Future Lobarion diversity (e.g. in the 2050s) may depend upon the interaction of contemporary climate (e.g. 2050s climate) and historic habitat structure (e.g. 1950s woodland extent). This is supported by previous observations for an extinction debt amongst lichen epiphytes, but suggests an extension of simple climate-response models is necessary, before their wider application to lichen epiphyte diversity.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2007

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