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Terricolous lichens as indicators of nitrogen deposition: Evidence from national records

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • Carly Stevens
  • S.M. Smart
  • P. Henrys
  • L.C. Maskell
  • A. Crowe
  • J. Simkin
  • C.D. Preston
  • C. Cheffings
  • C. Whitfield
  • E. Rowe
  • D.J.G. Gowing
  • B.A. Emmett
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>2012
<mark>Journal</mark>Ecological Indicators
Number of pages8
Pages (from-to)196-203
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Large areas of Great Britain currently receive nitrogen (N) deposition at rates which exceed the thresholds above which there is risk of damage to sensitive components of the ecosystem (critical loads for nutrient nitrogen and critical levels for ammonia), and are predicted to continue to do so. Excess N can damage semi-natural ecosystems. Lichens are potentially sensitive to air quality because they directly utilise nutrients deposited from the atmosphere thus may be good indicators of air quality. We used data from the British Lichen Society (BLS) database, which records the presence of all lichen taxa growing in Britain at 10 km resolution. The probability of presence of a taxa at a given level of N deposition was analysed together with driver data for climate, change in sulphur deposition, land-use and N deposition using generalised additive models (GAMs). Many taxa showed negative responses to N deposition with reductions in the probability of presence as N deposition increased. In all of the habitats, there were a mix of terricolous taxa which showed negative or no significant relationship with N deposition. Most of the taxa with negative relationships with N deposition started to decline in prevalence at the lowest levels of deposition found in this study. Levels of deposition over which a negative response apparently occurs are lower than those at which critical loads have been set for some habitats. These findings suggest that some terricolouslichen taxa are sensitive to atmospheric N deposition and even low levels of nitrogen deposition could be damaging terricolouslichen communities making then potentially good indicators of N deposition.