Author(s): Welden, N.A., P.A. Wolseley and M.R. Ashmore

Year: 2017

In: Environmental Pollution (online)

DOI: 10.1016/j.envpol.2017.09.020

Type: Journal article



Link to SEI authors:

Citizen science identifies the effects of nitrogen deposition, climate and tree species on epiphytic lichens across the UK

Lichens found on tree branches can be used to assess air pollution impacts.Lichens found on tree branches can be used to assess air pollution impacts. Credit: sanjay_ach / CC by 4.0

This article demonstrates how a citizen science project has led to greater understanding of lichen response to air pollution in the UK.

A national citizen survey quantified the abundance of epiphytic lichens that are known to be either sensitive or tolerant to nitrogen (N) deposition. Records were collected across the UK from over 10,000 individual trees of 22 deciduous species. Mean abundance of tolerant and sensitive lichens was related to mean N deposition rates and climatic variables at a 5 km scale, and the response of lichens was compared on the three most common trees (Quercus, Fraxinus and Acer) and by assigning all 22 tree species to three bark pH groups. 

The major highlights from the study showed that:

  • abundance of N-tolerant lichens was lower on Quercus and other low bark pH species;
  • total N deposition decreased N-sensitive and increased N-tolerant lichen abundance;
  • local busy roads decreased N-sensitive and increased N-tolerant lichen abundance; and
  • reduced N deposition reduced N-sensitive lichen abundance more than oxidised N.

The results from the study demonstrate the unique power of citizen science to detect and quantify the air pollution impacts over a wide geographical range, and specifically to contribute to understanding of lichen responses to different chemical forms of N deposition, local pollution sources and bark chemistry.

Read the article (external link to journal website)