July 6, 2020

They study lichens to identify protection zones in the face of the climate crisis

A study led by the Rey Juan Carlos University (URJC) has identified beech forests in Spain and Italy as “a priority area to preserve lichen communities”, since these organisms “are early warning indicators to predict climate change scenarios”.

The research team, led by the ESEFUNLICH-URJC group, has identified the Mediterranean region, mainly this type of forest in Spain and Italy, as “one of the areas that require special attention for the conservation of a large number of species”, highlights the university in a note.

“The Mediterranean region is a diversity hot spot for the European beech macrolichens,” said Pilar Hurtado, researcher in the area of ​​Biodiversity and Conservation at the URJC and co-author of the study, which has had the collaboration of the Faculty of Sciences from the University of Lisbon (Portugal).

This is one of the areas most affected by the climate emergency, in which a pronounced rise in temperature and an increase in summer drought are expected, so this study identifies this region as “one of the priority conservation areas” .

To carry out this research, the scientific team has analyzed the communities of macrolichens (58 species of large lichens) that live on trees (epiphytes) in 23 beech forests throughout Europe, from southern Sweden to the south. from Italy. In addition to studying their taxonomy (classification and ordering of species), they have observed their functions within the ecosystem and their evolutionary development or phylogenetic information.

“We have analyzed the response of the three dimensions of biodiversity to identify hot spots that require special attention to help not only conserve a large number of species, but also functions and lineages in the present and in the future,” he added. the URJC researcher.

The results of this research, recently published in the scientific journal ‘Science of the Total Environment’, point out that “the communities with the greatest diversity of traits or biological characteristics are also those with the greatest number of different species and lineages”.

“In this way, conserving these communities would help ensure the resilience of ecosystems to the uncertainty of future climate change.”

The scientific team also quantified the abundance of macrolichene species present in each forest, also collecting samples to measure different biological traits, such as water content or the acquisition of nutrients, and prepared a family tree for the communities found in each forest, thus quantifying the kinship relationships between the species.

The team also concluded that some functional features of lichens, such as the shape and type of photosynthetic organism, are useful indicators for evaluating the effects of the climate crisis on these epiphytic communities.

The data obtained will allow delimiting the areas that need priority protection, such as the Mediterranean region.


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