Local population extinction and vitality of an epiphytic lichen in fragmented old-growth forest

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Abstract

The population dynamics of organisms living in short-lived habitats will largely depend on the turnover of habitat patches. It has been suggested that epiphytes, whose host plants can be regarded as habitat patches, often form such patch-tracking populations. However, very little is known about the long-term fate of epiphyte individuals and populations. We estimated life span and assessed environmental factors influencing changes in vitality, fertility, abundance, and distribution of the epiphytic lichen species Lobaria pulmonaria on two spatial scales, individual trees and forest patches, over a period of; 10 years in 66 old-growth forest fragments. The lichen had gone extinct from 7 of the 66 sites (13.0%) where it was found 10 years earlier, even though the sites remained unchanged. The risk of local population extinction increased with decreasing population size. In contrast to the decrease in the number of occupied trees and sites, the mean area of the lichen per tree increased by 43.0%. The number of trees with fertile ramets of L. pulmonaria increased from 7 (similar to 1%) to 61 (similar to 10%) trees, and the number of forest fragments with fertile ramets increased from 4 to 23 fragments. The mean annual rate of L. pulmonaria extinction at the tree level was estimated to be 2.52%, translating into an expected lifetime of 39.7 years. This disappearance rate is higher than estimated mortality rates for potential host trees. The risk of extinction at the tree level was significantly positively related to tree circumference and differed between tree species. The probability of presence of fertile ramets increased significantly with local population size. Our results show a long expected lifetime of Lobaria pulmonaria ramets on individual trees and a recent increase in vitality, probably due to decreasing air pollution. The population is, however, declining slowly even though remaining stands are left uncut, which we interpret as an extinction debt.

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Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Ecology

Keywords

  • population dynamics, extinction debt, expected lifetime, fertility, Sweden, hemi-boreal forests, Lobaria pulmonaria
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2100-2109
JournalEcology
Volume91
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes