Lichen Community Change in response to Forest Succession in Northern Great Basin, USA

P. Rogers
Ronald J. Ryel, Utah State University

Originally published by Elsevier. Publisher's PDF and HTML fulltext available through remote link.


In western North America, quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) is the most common hardwood in montane landscapes. Fire suppression, grazing and wildlife management practices, and climate patterns of the past century are all potential threats to aspen coverage in this region. If aspen-dependent species are losing habitat, this raises concerns about their long-term viability. Though lichens have a rich history as air pollution indicators, we believe that they may also be useful as a metric of community diversity associated with habitat change. We 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 (2134–2438 m) to minimize the known covariant effects of elevation and moisture on lichen communities. Results show increasing total 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 as related to these trends. We developed an aspen index score based on lichens showing an affinity for aspen habitat (Phaeophyscia nigricans, Physcia tenella, Xanthomendoza fulva, Xanthomendoza galericulata) and found a significant negative relationship between the index and successional progression. Indicator species analysis showed the importance of all stages of aspen-conifer succession for lichen community diversity and highlighted the decline of aspen-dependent species with advancing succession. We present a landscape-level community analysis of lichens in the context of a conceptual model for aspen succession for the southern Rocky Mountains. We conclude that while total number of lichen species increases with succession, aspen-dependent species cover and richness will decline. In this way, epiphytic lichens communities may constitute an effective indicator of community-level diversity in for aspen-dependent species at-large.