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Epiphyte Ecology
Monitoring Change
Species Discovery

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Dr Brian Coppins
Ms Sally Eaton
Dr Christopher Ellis
Ms Louise Olley
Dr Rebecca Yahr

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Introduction

Our ecological monitoring measures the effects of environmental change for two contrasting lichen dominated systems: lichen-rich montane heath, and stabilised coastal shingle.

Lichen Heath

Species associated with arctic/alpine habitats, such as those occurring in the high Scottish mountains, are among the most threatened by climate change. To monitor these habitats we sampled altitudinal transects in areas of wind-clipped Calluna heath (Figure 1). Initial analysis has shown that dominant lichens are dependent on the balance between competition and facilitation imposed by the height of the ericaceous canopy, which is in turn partly controlled by wind-speed [1]. However, predicting future wind-speeds is extremely difficult, and presents a key uncertainty in the climate response of British mountain vegetation.

Repeat sampling of these transects in 2023 will help confirm any negative impact of climate warming on lichen-rich montane heath, or will allow us to understand mechanisms leading to their resilience.

Stabilised Shingle

Scotland includes some of the best European examples of lichen-rich stabilised shingle, and the dynamics of these systems will be affected by and can also ameliorate the impact of rising sea levels. To better understand the role of pioneer colonising lichens in shingle dynamics, permanent plots have been sampled across the Culbin Bar system (Figure 2). These will be resampled in 2023 to improve our understanding of long-term coastal vegetation processes.

Figure 1. Wind-swept lichen-rich heath in Scotland's Cairngorm mountains, the subject of a long-term RBGE monitoring project to examine the direct and indirect effects of climate change.
 
Figure 2. Dynamic vegetation succession on Culbin Bar in north-eastern Scotland.

References:

[1] Crabtree, D. & Ellis, C.J. (2010) Species interaction and response to wind-speed alter the impact of projected temperature change in a montane ecosystem. Journal of Vegetation Science, 21: 744-760.