1. Macrolichens are important for the functioning and biodiversity of cold northern ecosystems and their reindeer-based cultures and economies. 2. We hypothesized that, in climatically milder parts of the Arctic, where ecosystems have relatively dense plant canopies, climate warming and/or increased nutrient availability leads to decline in macrolichen abundance as a function of increased abundance of vascular plants. In more open high-arctic or arctic-alpine plant communities such a relationship should be absent. To test this, we synthesized cross-continental arctic vegetation data from ecosystem manipulation experiments simulating mostly warming and increased nutrient availability, and compared these with similar data from natural environmental gradients. 3. Regressions between abundance or biomass of macrolichens and vascular plants were consistently negative across the subarctic and mid-arctic experimental studies. Such a pattern did not emerge in the coldest high-arctic or arctic-alpine sites. The slopes of the negative regressions increased across 10 sites as the climate became milder (as indicated by a simple climatic index) or the vegetation denser (greater site above-ground biomass). 4. Seven natural vegetation gradients in the lower-altitude sub- and mid-arctic zone confirmed the patterns seen in the experimental studies, showing consistent negative relationships between abundance of macrolichens and vascular plants. 5. We conclude that the data supported the hypothesis. Macrolichens in climatically milder arctic ecosystems may decline if and where global changes cause vascular plants to increase in abundance. 6. However, a refining of our findings is needed, for instance by integrating other abiotic and biotic effects such as reindeer grazing feedback on the balance between vascular plants and lichens.
- Ecosystem manipulation experiment
- Nutrient availability
- Vascular plant