BES Forest Ecology Group

A British Ecological Society Special Interest Group

Liking lichens – a new toolkit from RBG Edinburgh

By Sally Eaton and Chris Ellis

Lichens are among the UK’s most important contributions to international biodiversity with around 2000 species (which makes up around 45% of European lichen diversity), and having the third most species on the UK’s Priority conservation list. In addition, tree dwelling, or epiphytic lichens form an important component of woodland ecosystems, (e.g. as nitrogen fixers, as indicators of air pollution, and in providing a habitat for invertebrates). However as the habitat requirements of individual species within this important group are rarely known, it has been difficult for those involved in woodland management to account for them in their decision making.

Lichens boost UK biodiversity

To address this problem, a team from the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh have developed a publicly available lichen epiphyte toolkit. The toolkit provides estimates of environmental suitability for lichen epiphytes (from single species to whole communities) under a spectrum of possible future scenarios, with respect to woodland composition and climate change.

Examples of the use of this toolkit might include:

  • Exploring the impact of ash dieback on Nephroma laevigata, a rare lichen species with a preference for old ash trees.
  • Exploring the difference in the environmental suitability of various tree planting options associated with woodland expansion, for a community of lichens that may be encouraged to expand given suitable habitat.
  • Exploring the impact of different climate change scenarios within an existing woodland on rare lichen epiphytes which we have an international responsibility to conserve, such as Lobaria pulmonaria.

Though this scenarios approach does not aim to predict the future, it does provide an evidence base for decision making under uncertainty, with the means to explore the possible effects of alternative options.  It is hoped that by using the tool, woodland managers, policy makers and   conservationists will be able to make better informed decisions about woodlands and their lichen epiphytes.

The toolkit can be accessed here: and for further information about the toolkit and its uses see this document on the climate exchange website:


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This entry was posted on September 9, 2014 by in Tools and tagged , , , , .

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