Lichens as spatially transferable bioindicators for monitoring nitrogen pollution
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Excess nitrogen is a pollutant and global problem that harms ecosystems and can severely affect human health. Pollutant nitrogen is becoming more widespread and intensifying in the tropics. There is thus a requirement to develop nitrogen biomonitoring for spatial mapping and trend analysis of tropical biodiversity and ecosystems. In temperate and boreal zones, multiple bioindicators for nitrogen pollution have been developed, with lichen epiphytes among the most sensitive and widely applied. However, the state of our current knowledge on bioindicators is geographically biased, with extensive research effort focused on bioindicators in the temperate and boreal zones. The development of lichen bioindicators in the tropics is further weakened by incomplete taxonomic and ecological knowledge. In this study we performed a literature review and meta-analysis, attempting to identify characteristics of lichens that offer transferability of bioindication into tropical regions. This transferability must overcome the different species pools between source information – drawing on extensive research effort in the temperate and boreal zone – and tropical ecosystems. Focussing on ammonia concentration as the nitrogen pollutant, we identify a set of morphological traits and taxonomic relationships that cause lichen epiphytes to be more sensitive, or more resistant to this excess nitrogen. We perform an independent test of our bioindicator scheme and offer recommendations for its application and future research in the tropics.
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