Journal Article

Growth and Nitrogen Relations in the Mat-forming Lichens <i>Stereocaulon paschale</i> and <i>Cladonia stellaris</i>

M.-M. Kytöviita and P. D. Crittenden

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 100, issue 7, pages 1537-1545
Published in print December 2007 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online October 2007 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Growth and Nitrogen Relations in the Mat-forming Lichens Stereocaulon paschale and Cladonia stellaris

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


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Background and Aims

Mat-forming lichens in the genera Stereocaulon and Cladonia have ecosystem-level effects in northern boreal forests. Yet the factors affecting the productivity of mat-forming lichens are not known. The aim of the presented work was to investigate whether mat-forming lichens adapted to low N availability employ N-conserving mechanisms similar to those of vascular plants in nutrient-poor ecosystems. Specifically, the following questions were asked: (a) Do lichens translocate N from basal areas to apical growth areas? (b) Are the quantities of N translocated of ecological significance. (c) Is lichen growth dependent on tissue N concentration [N].


Two different, but complementary, field experiments were conducted using the mat-forming N2-fixing Stereocaulon paschale and non-fixing Cladonia stellaris as model species. First, N translocation was investigated by feeding lichens with Na15NO3 either directly to the apex (theoretical sink) or to the basal part (theoretical source) and observing the redistribution of 15N after a growth period. Secondly, growth and variation in [N] in thalli of different lengths was measured after a growth period.

Key Results

15N fed to lower parts of lichen was translocated towards the growing top, but not vice versa, indicating physiologically dependent translocation that follows a sink–source relationship. In the growth experiment where thalli were cut to different lengths, the significant decrease in [N] in apices of short vs. longer thalli after a growth period is consistent with internal relocation as an ecologically important source of N.


The presented results demonstrate that internal recycling of N occurs in both species investigated and may be ecologically important in these mat-forming lichens under field conditions. The higher nitrogen use efficiency and relative growth rate in C. stellaris in comparison with S. paschale probably enable C. stellaris to dominate the ground cover vegetation in dry boreal coniferous forests under undisturbed conditions.

Keywords: Cladonia; Stereocaulon; nitrogen translocation; relative growth rate; nitrogen use efficiency; mat-forming lichens

Journal Article.  6236 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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