Epiphytic Moss as a Biomonitor for Nitrogen Deposition

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Terry Rolfe, Timea Deakova, Erin Shortlidge, Meenakshi Rao, Todd N Rosenstiel, Andrew L Rice and Linda Acha George, Portland State University, Portland, OR, United States
Tracking nitrogen (N) deposition patterns is important for understanding how anthropogenic sources of nitrogen affect natural habitats, human health, and for evaluating computer models of future N deposition. It can also aid in tracking and modeling anthropogenic fossil fuel emissions. This pilot study investigated the use of Orthotrichum lyellii, a common urban epiphytic moss, as a possible bioindicator for N deposition through the analysis of total moss N content and N isotopic fractionation ( δ15N) for evaluating N sources. In the spring/summer of 2013 we collected 168 O. lyellii samples from the trunks of deciduous trees in 53 locations in the Portland metropolitan area. In the winter of 2013-14, we resampled the same locations to investigate the effect of seasonality. The averaged summer moss N content were plotted against a land use regression model (LUR) developed by taking NOx samples from 144 sites in the Portland area within the Urban Growth Boundary. The correlation between moss N and modeled NO2 was found to be significant at p < 0.001, r=0.625. Summer moss samples N content ranged between 0.71% and 3.36% (mean of 1.87%), the δ15N ranged -8.97‰ and 11.78‰ (mean of -0.91‰). Moss winter N content ranged between .77% and 3.12% (mean of 1.71%), and the δ15N ranged -10.40‰ and 10.27‰ (mean of -3.73‰). The average values for %N and δ15N fall within the range of previous studies in other moss samples, however the maximum values are higher than what other studies have typically found for both %N and δ15N. A significant correlation between δ15N and %N was found (r = 0.67). The moss samples showed a similar pattern of higher N content and δ15N near the urban center decreasing with distance from major roadways and other significant sources of fossil fuel derived NOx. These results indicated the sensitivity of O.lyellii to N and the potential for its use as a biomonitor. With sufficient sampling density, using O. lyellii  as an inexpensive biomonitor to evaluate local bioavailable N deposition could be a useful tool in monitoring atmospheric N inputs at relatively high resolution and low cost.