The structure and dynamics of saxicolous lichen communities

Richard A. Armstrong

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


The saxicolous lichen vegetation on Ordovician slate rock at the mouth of the River Dovey, South Merionethshire, Wales was described in relation to several environmental variables which include aspect, slope angle, light intensity, rock porosity, rock microtopography and rock stability. Each of the measured environmental variables was shown to influence the lichen vegetation. A number of groups of species which were characteristic of certain environments were described. The data from the saxicolous lichen communities were analysed using multivariate analysis. Qualitative and quantitative data were ordinated, the qualitative data being easier to interpret ecologically, and site number (which reflects distance from the sea and altitude), rock porosity and light intensity were shown to be important environmental variables. A classification of the data was also carried out. The results of the ordination and classification were combined together and a model constructed which describes saxicolous lichen vegetation. A method which uses the model as an aid to the design and interpretation of field experiments is described. The model is applied to an experiment which investigates the effect on growth of transplanting four saxicolous lichens to different aspects. Growth was inhibited in Physcia orbicularis and Parmelia conspersa on rock surfaces of northwest aspect compared with growth on rock surfaces of southeast aspect. Growth was inhibited in Parmelia glabratula ssp. fuliginosa on rock surfaces of southeast aspect compared with rock surfaces of northwesr aspect. The growth of Parmelia saxatilis was similar at both southeast and northwesr aspects. Growth inhibition or stimulation in thalli of Physcia orbicularis, Parmelia conspersa and Parmelia glabratula ssp. fuliginosa after transplantation was consistent with the predictions of the model while the results for Parmelia saxatilis were not as expected. There was evidence that the frequency of Parmelia conspersa and Parmelia glabratula at a site is related to an effect of the environment on the growth of the thalli. There was also evidence that the frequency of Physcia orbicularis at a site is related to an effect of the environment on the establishment phase of the thalli and for the competitive exclusion of Parmelia saxatilis thalli from southeast facing rock surfaces. The distribution of lichens in relation to height on nine rock surfaces was investigated. It was suggested that the distribution of the lichens was influenced by microclimatic factors which are related to height on the rock, environmental variables which are associated with the rock substratum (e.g. rock porosity and rock microtopography) and by historical factors. The pattern of one crustose and one foliose lichen on four rock surfaces of different aspect and slope was investigated. On the vertically inclined surface the density of small thalli of Buellia aethalea and Parmelia glabratula ssp fuliginosa was correlated with the microtopography of the surface in transects horizontally across the rock surface but not in transects vertically down the rock surface. there were consitent differences in the scale and intensity of pattern horizontally and vertically and also a decrease in the intensity of pattern vertically as the slope of the rock surface decreased. These results were consistent with the suggestion of a gradient of microclimatic factors up the rock. The differences in the scale and intensity of pattern in different size classes in the population were consistent with the changes in pattern with time which have been shown to occur during succession in sand dune and salt marsh vegetation. The relationship between thallus size and height on a rock surface and between the radial growth rate and location of a thallus on a rock surface were investigated. Thalli of Parmelia glabratula ssp. fuliginosa were larger at the top of the rock surface than at the bottom and the data were consistent with the suggestion that the colonisation of the rock surface began at the top and, in time, spread downwards. The radial growth rate of the thalli could not be related to variation in slope, porosity, microtopography or directly to height on the rock but could be related to the horizontal location of the thalli on the rock. These results were consistent with the suggestion that here is a gradient of microclimatic factors across the rock surface which is also modified by height on the rock surface. The succession of lichen communities was described by relating the vegetation to rock porosity, rock microtopography, species diversity and rock stability. An initial stage dominated by crustose lichens leads to communities dominated by crustose, foliose and fruticose species. In the late stages of the succession on some rock surfaces crustose species again become dominant. The occurrence of the climax state and cyclic vegetation change in lichen communities are discussed. A mthod of estimating the age structure of a lichen population by relating thallus size to growth rate is described. The sources of error in the method are discussed in some detail and several refinements suggested to increase the accuracy of the method. The population dynamics of Parmelia glabratula ssp. fuliginosa was investigated by applying life tables to the age structures of eight different populations. The data were consistent with a period of relatively constant recruitment of thalli into the populations. Mortality in lichen populations was divided into deaths which occur after fragmentation of the thallus and deaths which occur after catastrophic environmental events. THe data suggest that the rate of fragmenting death is dependent on the age of the thallus while the rate of catastrophic death is dependent on the number of thalli established in an age class. A comparison of the numbers of thalli in each age class in the eight populations suggested that population density is controlled firstly, by climate and secondly, by variables related to the local rock surface environment. The rate of fragmenting death is related to the diversity of the community and the influence of diversity together with environmental variables in fluctuating or cyclic changes in population number.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Oxford
Award date1 Jan 1974
Publication statusPublished - 1974


  • saxicolous lichens
  • ordovician slate rock


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