Urbanization Impacts on Tree Canopies: The Unexplored Link Between Canopy Epiphytes and Pacific Northwest Forest Biogeochemical Cycles

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Hannah Prather and Todd N Rosenstiel, Portland State University, Portland, OR, United States
Canopy-dwelling cryptogamic plants (i.e. lichens and mosses) serve important roles in biogeochemical cycles worldwide and are of particular importance to biogeochemical cycling in Pacific Northwest forests. Epiphytic lichens and mosses respond sensitively to both direct and indirect effects of global change, as evidenced by distinct changes in epiphyte community structure. Yet, few studies have explored how shifting epiphytic communities, resulting from changing climate and increasing air pollutant exposure, may greatly impact biogeochemical cycles of the forests they inhabit. We present the first study investigating how urbanization, as a proxy for global change, impacts epiphytic community structure and functional biodiversity and address the impending effects on Pacific Northwest forest biogeochemical cycles. We discuss the results of paired ground and arboreal epiphyte surveys across an urban to rural gradient in Portland, Oregon. Three research sites with varying distance (0km, 74km, and 109km) from urban center were surveyed and epiphytic biodiversity was described. Pronounced shifts in epiphyte community structure were observed downwind of the Portland metro region. These results suggest that the impacts of urbanization may have significant and surprisingly far-reaching impacts on forested ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest. The impacts of an altered ground and arboreal epiphytic community on Pacific Northwest forest biogeochemical processes will be discussed.