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Effects of Nitrogen Deposition on the Abundance and Metabolism of Lichens: A Meta-analysis

  • Blanca Gutiérrez-Larruga
  • Belén Estébanez-Pérez
  • Raúl Ochoa-HuesoEmail author


Lichens are the key to nutrient cycling and trophic networks in many terrestrial ecosystems and are good bioindicators of air pollution, including nitrogen (N) deposition. Experimental studies have shown that N deposition can reduce the abundance of lichens and alter their thallus chemistry and metabolism, but we currently lack information about how widespread this effect is and what are the environmental factors modulating the response of lichens to N. We carried out a meta-analysis of the literature about the effects of experimental N fertilization on lichen abundance and metabolism. We found thirty-nine articles from thirty-one experimental sites that met our search criteria. These studies showed that the addition of N accelerates lichen metabolism in the short term and decreases their abundance in the medium–long term. Early senescence of lichens is proposed as a possible mechanism linking the two observed responses. Chlorolichens from regions with high precipitation (> 1000 mm) and with a background N deposition of mixed origin (agricultural and industrial) were the most affected by N, in terms of both abundance and metabolism. Structural equation modelling showed that the rate of N addition was the main factor in modulating the response of lichens to N in terms of metabolism, whereas isothermality played a very important role in modulating the lichen response to N in terms of abundance. Our meta-analysis identified that excess N deposition reduces lichen abundance and increases the metabolism of sensitive species, especially across European ecosystems; lichens from more climatically benign regions (that is, greater precipitation and isothermality) are the most affected.


Global change Lichens Meta-analysis Nitrogen deposition Nitrogen fertilization Structural equations models (SEM) 



ROH initiated this study being funded by a Juan de la Cierva-Incorporación Fellowship (JCI-2014-21252) from MINECO and finished it with the support of a Ramón y Cajal Fellowship (RYC-2017-22032) from MICIU. All data used in this study can be accessed from Ochoa-Hueso and Gutierrez-Larruga (2019).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Authors declare no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10021_2019_431_MOESM1_ESM.emf (878 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (EMF 878 kb)
10021_2019_431_MOESM2_ESM.docx (105 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 105 kb)
10021_2019_431_MOESM3_ESM.csv (27 kb)
Supplementary Table 1. Spearman rank correlations between environmental and procedural variables and the lnRR of abundance-related metrics (CSV 26 kb)
10021_2019_431_MOESM4_ESM.csv (25 kb)
Supplementary Table 2. Spearman rank correlations between environmental and procedural variables and the lnRR of metabolism-related metrics (CSV 24 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Blanca Gutiérrez-Larruga
    • 1
  • Belén Estébanez-Pérez
    • 2
  • Raúl Ochoa-Hueso
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of EcologyAutonomous University of MadridMadridSpain
  2. 2.Department of BiologyAutonomous University of MadridMadridSpain
  3. 3.Department of Biology, IVAGROUniversity of CádizPuerto Real, CádizSpain

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