First Advisor

Todd Rosenstiel

Date of Publication

Spring 6-6-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Biology






Lichen communities -- Environmental aspects, Mosses -- Environmental aspects, Urban forestry, Urbanization, Epiphytic lichens, Forest canopies, Climatic changes, Air quality



Physical Description

1 online resource (xiii, 187 pages)


Globally, more than half of the world's population is living in urban areas and it is well accepted that human activities (e.g. climate warming, pollution, landscape homogenization) pose a multitude of threats to ecosystems. Largely, human-related impacts on biodiversity will hold consequences for larger ecological processes and research looking into human impacts on sensitive epiphytic lichen and moss communities is an emerging area of research. While seemingly small, lichen and moss communities exist on nearly every terrestrial ecosystem on Earth and contribute to whole-system processes (e.g. hydrology, mineral cycling, food web energetics) worldwide. To further examine human impacts on epiphytic communities, I conducted three studies examining urbanization and climate warming effects on epiphytic lichen and moss biodiversity and ecology.

In the first study I revisited a historic urban lichen community study to assess how urban lichen communities have responded to regional air quality changes occurring over the last nearly two decades. I further investigated, for the first time, the biodiversity of urban tree canopy-dwelling lichen communities in a native coniferous tree species, Pseudotsuga menziesii. I found that urban parks and forested areas harbor a species rich community of lichens epiphytes. Further, I found evidence for the distinct homogenization of urban epiphytic lichen communities, suggesting that expanding beyond simplistic measures of biodiversity to consider community composition and functional biodiversity may be necessary when assessing the ecology and potential ecosystem services of epiphyte communites within urbanizing landscapes.

Next, I present the first tall tree canopy study across a regional gradient of urbanization near Portland, Oregon, USA. I found that tall tree canopy epiphyte communities change dramatically along gradients of increasing urbanization, most notably by the transitioning of species functional groups from sensitive, oligotrophic species to a dominance of urban-tolerant, eutrophic species. The implications these dramatic shifts in species composition have on essential PNW ecosystem processes, like N-fixation and canopy microclimate regulation, is still not well understood and is difficult to formally evaluate. However, I find strong evidence that native conifer trees in urban areas may provide a diversity of essential ecosystem services, including providing stratified habitat for epiphyte communities and their associated micro arthropod communities and the scavenging of atmospherically deposited nutrients. Future work is needed to understand how losses in canopy N fixation and species with large biomass (both lichens and bryophytes) will affect nutrient and hydrologic cycling in the PNW region, which continue to undergo rapid growth and urbanization.

The final chapter investigates the impacts of passive warming by Open Top Chambers (OTCs) in moss-dominated ecosystems located on the Western Antarctic Peninsula, an area of increasing climate warming. I compared species-specific temperature effects, moss canopy morphology, sexual reproductive effort and invertebrate communities between OTC and control moss communities for two moss species, Polytrichastrum alpinum and Sanionia uncinata, that make up over 65% of the terrestrial vegetative cover in the area. I found distinct reproductive shifts in P. alpinum under passive warming compared to controls. Moss communities under warming also had substantially larger total invertebrate communities than those in control moss communities, and invertebrate communities were significantly affected by moss species and moss reproductive effort. Further, substantial species-specific thermal differences among contiguous patches of these dominant moss species were revealed. These results suggest that continued warming will differentially impact the reproductive output of Antarctic moss species and is likely to dramatically alter terrestrial ecosystems dynamics from the bottom up.

This combined work provides a diverse contribution to the field of epiphyte ecology and biology by providing new insights on how human impacts will affect epiphyte lichen and moss communities across diverse ecosystems, in light of a rapidly changing planet.


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