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Aspen lichens in agricultural and forest landscapes: the importance of habitat quality

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The amount of aspen Populus tremula, has declined in the boreal forest landscape. This decline is especially marked in young and intermediate stands due to the lack of regeneration. Aspen regeneration is nowadays mainly restricted to abandoned agricultural land. The decrease of aspen is of particular concern as it has more host-specific species than any other boreal tree species. The main question addressed is whether regenerating aspen stands in agricultural habitats can compensate for the deficiency of young stands in the forest. Data on epiphytic macrolichens show that cyanolichens increased, in number and frequency, with stand age in the forest landscape, and that there was a striking difference in species composition between stands in the two landscapes. Lichens with cyanobacterial and green-algal photobionts dominated in the forest and agricultural stands, respectively. Notably, cyanolichens were not found in stands younger than 50 yr in the forest, and stands younger than 100 yr in the agricultural landscape. This difference between the landscapes cannot be explained by stand age, stand size or isolation. Instead, differences in habitat quality, due to differences in the physical environment associated with the presence of conifers in the older forest stands, appear to be involved. We suggest that in order to conserve cyanolichens that are confined to aspen, active management practices have to be adopted that promote the regeneration of aspen in the forest landscape, and the establishment of conifers in areas where aspen regeneration is confined to the agricultural landscape. In addition, until new aspen stands with appropriate physical environments have been established, these measures must be combined with the preservation of existing old-growth stands, which can provide appropriate source populations.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2004

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