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Environ Pollut. 2001;112(2):163-9.

Relationship between epiphytic lichens, trace elements and gaseous atmospheric pollutants.

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  • 1Alterra Green World Research, PO Box 47, 6700 AA Wageningen, The Netherlands.


A study was conducted to determine the joint effect of gaseous atmospheric pollutants and trace elements on epiphytic lichens. We used our data to test the hypothesis that lichens are generally insensitive to toxic effects of trace elements, and can therefore be used as accumulator organisms to estimate concentrations of these elements in the environment. In a field study in The Netherlands the abundance of epiphytic lichen species was estimated, and their supporting bark was collected. Concentrations of a range of trace elements were determined in the bark, and concentrations of atmospheric trace gases were estimated at the sites of collection. Multivariate statistics were used to determine the relation between the abundance of the species and pollutant concentrations. Atmospheric SO2 and NO2 appeared to be the most important factors determining lichen biodiversity. Nearly all species were sensitive to these compounds. The effect of the other trace elements was very slight; only Sb had a significantly negative effect on the abundance of a few species. It is concluded that lichens can safely be used as accumulator organisms in pollution studies, provided that concentration in lichen thalli reflect atmospheric concentrations.

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