Colonization by lichens and the development of lichen-dominated communities in the maritime Antarctic
Three long-term studies of lichen growth and colonization have been undertaken at Signy Island, South Orkney Islands, in the maritime Antarctic. Small individual thalli of several crustose species and uncolonized plots on 12 fresh rock surfaces were photographically monitored at intervals of 3–4 years over a period of up to 20 years. The development of Ochrolechia frigida colonies on a regenerating moss bank, recently uncovered by a receding glacier, was similarly monitored. The results indicate that many lichens growing in sites enriched by nitrogenous compounds derived from populations of sea birds, have relatively rapid colonization and growth rates. Mean percentage increase in thallus area can be as high as 15–32% per annum in some nitrophilous saxicolous species (e.g. Acarospora macrocyclos, Xanthoria elegans and species of Buellia and Caloplaca), but as low as 0·4–4% in nitrophobous species (Lecanora physciella, Lecidea sp., Rhizocarpon geographicum). Umbilicaria antarctica and Usnea antarctica also yielded data indicating high growth rates, with colonist plants reaching several centimetres after 20 years. Colonization by mixed assemblages of lichens of new rock surfaces can attain 40→90% cover after 20 years in nutrient-enriched sites, and even 20–25% in non-biotically influenced sites. Colonization by or increase in extant O. frigida on the regenerating moribund moss bank was also quite rapid. It is suggested that the ~exceptionally large thalli of several lichen species and the locally extensive dense lichen fellfield communities in the maritime Antarctic may be much younger than previously supposed.