Quantifying dispersal and establishment limitation in a population of an epiphytic lichen
Dispersal is a process critical for the dynamics and persistence of metapopulations, but it is difficult to quantify. It has been suggested that the old-forest lichen Lobaria pulmonaria is limited by insufficient dispersal ability. We analyzed 240 DNA extracts derived from snow samples by a L. pulmonaria-specific real-time PCR (polymerase chain reaction) assay of the ITS (internal transcribed spacer) region allowing for the discrimination among propagules originating from a single, isolated source tree or propagules originating from other locations. Samples that were detected as positives by real-time PCR were additionally genotyped for five L. pulmonaria microsatellite loci. Both molecular approaches demonstrated substantial dispersal from other than local sources. In a landscape approach, we additionally analyzed 240 snow samples with real-time PCR of ITS and detected propagules not only in forests where L. pulmonaria was present, but also in large unforested pasture areas and in forest patches where L. pulmonaria was not found. Monitoring of soredia of L. pulmonaria transplanted to maple bark after two vegetation periods showed high variance in growth among forest stands, but no significant differences among different transplantation treatments. Hence, it is probably not dispersal limitation that hinders colonization in the old-forest lichen L. pulmonaria, but ecological constraints at the stand level that can result in establishment limitation. Our study exemplifies that care has to be taken to adequately separate the effects of dispersal limitation from a limitation of establishment.