Matos, P., Pinho, P., Aragón, G., Martínez, I., Nunes, A., Soares, A.M.V.M., Branquinho, C. (2015) Lichen traits responding to aridity.Journal of Ecology, 103, 451–458. DOI:10.1111/1365-2745.12364 (IF2015 6,180; Q1 Ecology)
Climate change is expected to cause several impacts at the global scale, and drylands will be amongst the most affected areas. Thus, investigating how these changes will affect the composition, structure and functioning of dryland ecosystems has become a priority. From an ecological indicator point of view, several works have shown that functional diversity is better than species richness to understand ecosystem functioning or response to environmental factors. However, most of these works focus on plants, while those of other organisms remain largely unknown. Lichens are amongst the ecosystem components more sensitive to climatic changes due to several physiological and ecological characteristics. Their poikilohydric nature (therefore highly dependent on the atmosphere for water supply) and their ubiquity on terrestrial ecosystems underlie their potential as indicators of climate. Nonetheless, works specifically aiming to identify lichen functional traits that respond to aridity remain poorly explored, particularly in drylands.
We proposed to identify lichen functional traits and respective functional groups responding to aridity in a Mediterranean drylands ecosystem.
Lichen diversity was sampled in open holm oak woodlands along an aridity gradient in SW Europe (Iberian Peninsula). Lichen functional traits that could be easily identified and related to water uptake were selected to be tested: type of photobiont, growth form and reproduction strategy.
Lichen species composition was related to the aridity gradient. The three traits chosen were related with the community's response to aridity, but with contrasting responses in different functional groups. More specifically crustose and fruticose lichens, isidiate species and the ones with Trentepohlia as photobiont were related to the less arid part of the gradient. Foliose species and cyanolichens, on the contrary, were associated with the most arid areas.
Synthesis. We were able to identify lichen traits responding to aridity. Type of photobiont was particularly responsive, with Trentepohliaand cyanobacteria functional groups, responding clearly in contrasting ways to aridity in this drylands ecosystem. This work emphasizes functional diversity role on understanding and assessing the response to environmental factors, namely to climate. It also highlights the potential use of lichen functional groups as ecological indicators of climate change.