Sunscreening pigments shape the horizontal distribution of pendent hair lichens in the lower canopy of unmanaged coniferous forests

Gauslaa Y. & Goward T.
The Lichenologist
55(2): 81-89
Hair lichens are distinctive for their capillary growth and typically arboreal occurrence, especially in temperate and boreal forests. They consist of two morphogroups based on cortical pigments: a brown-black group with fungal melanin and a pale yellow-green group with usnic acid. Here we test the hypothesis that these morphogroups are ecologically distinct and thus appropriately regarded as functional groups. We examine their respective horizontal occurrence in the lower canopy of 60-year-old conifer forests on a 250 m tall volcanic cone in south-central British Columbia. Trees on open south-facing slopes and near the summit were found to support mainly melanic hair lichens (Bryoria and Nodobryoria), whereas more densely spaced trees on north-facing slopes and at the base had higher cover values of usnic lichens (especially Alectoria sarmentosa and Ramalina thrausta). The cover of melanic hair lichens was strongly correlated with canopy openness but not for their usnic counterparts. We suggest that investment in light-absorbing melanic pigments is an extreme form of specialization for high light, favouring persistence in dry, sun-exposed canopies of otherwise cool forests. By contrast, the cortex of pendent usnic hair lichens appears to facilitate optimum light transmission to underlying photobionts in shaded sites, though at the cost of sensitivity to light in open habitats, especially in rather dry regions. Alectoria, boreal forest, Bryoria, canopy architecture, cortical pigments, photoprotection
Wednesday, 10 May 2023 21:23