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The importance of host tree age, size and growth rate as determinants of epiphytic lichen diversity in boreal spruce forest.


The amount of large and old trees has decreased in the boreal forests during the last centuries of forestry. Such trees are important habitats for epiphytic lichens and there is a growing concern for lichen species that are associated with large and old trees. However, only little is known about the relative importance of tree size versus age as determinants of lichen diversity. Here we have determined the size, age and growth rate of 157 Norway spruce trees and recorded the occurrence of epiphytic lichen species on their branches and lower stems. The study includes crustose lichens and was done in two old-growth forests in SE Norway. Tree age and tree size were the parameters that explained the largest part of epiphytic lichen diversity. Only the growth rate of the most recent time period, i.e. 1984-2004, showed a statistically significant relationship to diversity. There was no indication of a stabilising species number with increasing tree age. Slow-growing and old trees were, however, mainly of importance to the lichen species growing on stems, and this set of species were in general adversely affected by a large amount of branches. The opposite was the case for the species that were confined to branches as their diversity increased when the amount of branches increased. Our study adds empirical data to support the importance of large and old trees as bearers of biodiversity in boreal forests. Site preservation and patch retention of groups of old and large trees is recommended as measures to maintain epiphytic lichen diversity.