In western North America, quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) is the most common hardwood in montane landscapes. Fire suppression, grazing, wildlife management practices, and climate patterns of the past century are some of the threats to aspen coverage in this region. Researchers are concerned that aspen-dependent species may be losing habitat, thereby threatening their long-term local and regional viability. Though lichens have a rich history as air pollution indicators, I believe that they may also be useful as a metric of community diversity associated with habitat change. To date, few studies have specifically examined the status of aspen’s epiphytic lichen community in the Rocky Mountains. A preliminary study was conducted using 10 transect-based plots to assess lichen species substrate preferences between aspen and various conifer species and to gain basic knowledge of species diversity. Following this work, I established 47 plots in the Bear River Range of northern Utah and southern Idaho to evaluate the effects of forest succession on epiphytic macrolichen communities. Plots were located in a narrow elevational belt (2,134-2,438 m) to minimize the known covariant effects of elevation and moisture on lichen communities. Results show increasing lichen diversity and a decrease in aspen-dependent species as aspen forests succeed to conifer cover types. The interactive roles of stand aspect, basal area and cover of dominant trees, stand age, aspen bark scars, and recent tree damage were examined in relation to these trends. An aspen index score was developed based on lichens showing an affinity for aspen habitat. I present a landscape-level multivariate analysis of short- and long-term factors influencing epiphytic lichen communities in aspen forests. Nonmetric multidimensional scaling (NMS) ordination stressed the importance of succession and local air pollution sources in shaping lichen communities. I also investigated the role of historic human intrusions and climate on aspen forests and aspen-dependent epiphytic lichens at the landscape-level. Implications of this work include 1) realization of nitrogen impacts on ecosystems, 2) the potential for using lichens as bioindicators for monitoring aspen stand health, and 3) suggestions for working with natural disturbance regimes to minimize human impacts on aspen and associated species.
Rogers, Paul C., "Factors Influencing Epiphytic Lichen Communities in Aspen-Associated Forests of the Bear River Range, Idaho and Utah" (2007). All U.S. Government Documents (Utah Regional Depository). Paper 459.