Relative effects of vehicle pollution, moisture and colonization sources on urban lichens.

Published online
19 Dec 2012
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Coffey, H. M. P. & Fahrig, L.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
Canada & Ontario


Lichens are sensitive to pollution and have therefore been used as air quality indicators. While the distribution of lichens within cities may reflect the distribution of traffic pollution, other factors affecting urban lichens are correlated with this pollution - particularly moisture and the presence of lichen colonization sources. Our objective was to determine the relative importance of these three factors - vehicle pollution, moisture and colonization sources - in determining lichen distribution within a city. We surveyed macrolichen richness and cover on 420 trees within 84 sites across urban Ottawa, Canada. The sites were selected to minimize correlations among vehicle pollution, moisture and colonization sources. Model-averaged standardized regression coefficients were used to compare the relative effects of these three variables on macrolichen richness and cover. We found that macrolichen cover was most strongly related to vehicle pollution and that this effect occurred within 300 m of a site. However, macrolichen species richness responded more strongly to both moisture (at the site centre) and colonization sources (within 1000 m of the site) than to vehicle pollution. Synthesis and applications. Our results suggest that macrolichen cover, but not macrolichen species richness, can be used as an indicator of urban traffic pollution. Our results also suggest that, to promote urban macrolichen diversity, it would be more effective to increase the availability of lichen colonization sources (nearby trees) than to control traffic pollution.

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