Lichen acclimatization on retention trees: a conservation physiology lesson.
Green-tree retention (GTR) has been suggested as a means to effectively support epiphytic lichen species in managed forests, given the low lichen mortality on retention trees in the short term. However, a long-term perspective requires a physiological understanding of lichen responses to logging. This study compares anatomical, morphological and physiological traits of lichens on retention trees and on intact forest trees. Thalli of nine taxa (Buellia griseovirens, Cladonia digitata, Hypogymnia physodes, Lecanora allophana, Lecanora pulicaris, Lepraria spp., Peltigera praetextata, Pertusaria amara and Phlyctis argena) were sampled from birch Betula spp. and aspen Populus tremula in GTR cuts, where they had previously been reported to survive well, and in adjacent managed forests. In the laboratory, chlorophyll fluorescence parameter Fv/Fm, thickness of the upper cortex, photobiont to mycobiont ratio and (in Lecanora species) the relative area of the apothecia were measured. All the lichen samples collected from GTR cuts appeared alive, but their Fv/Fm was significantly lower, relative areas of the apothecia were larger and the upper cortices of thalli were thicker compared with the samples from adjacent forests. No difference in photobiont to mycobiont ratio was found. These patterns were broadly consistent among species, indicating a common mechanism: while suffering from photoinhibition, the lichens had acclimatized to the open conditions and increased their investment to sexual reproduction in a few years. The study highlights the value of a morpho-physiological framework for conservation management by pointing out that, in GTR areas, lichen survival is high-irradiation limited and heavily dependent on phenotypic plasticity. A thin upper cortex may be a common feature of the most sensitive species. To sustain epiphyte populations in managed forests, precautionary harvesting strategies (gradual felling; group-retention; extended rotations) should be preferred and large-enough populations should be preserved, even though short-term studies suggest a high survival of lichens in cut areas.