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The Effects of Gaseous Ozone and Nitric Acid Deposition on two Crustose Lichen Species From Joshua Tree National Park


Lichens are dependent on atmospheric deposition for much of their water and nutrients, and due to their sensitivity to pollutants, are commonly used as bioindicators for air quality. While studies have focused on epiphytic (tree dwelling) lichens as bioindicators, virtually nothing is known about crustose (rock dwelling) lichens. The atmospheric pollutants ozone (O3) and nitric acid (HNO3) are two major pollutants found within the Los Angeles Basin. While recent O3 research suggests it does not significantly affect lichen growth, HNO3 appears to be phytotoxic to some lichens. As both of these pollutants are deposited downwind from the L.A. basin into Joshua Tree National Park (JOTR), lichen species located in the park may provide a sensitive indicator of pollution effects. This research studied two lichen species of particular interest from Joshua Tree National Park, Lobothallia praeradiosa (Nyl.) Hafellner, and Acarospora socialis H. Magn., both of which are crustose species with unknown sensitivities to O3, as well as hypothesized and unknown sensitivities to nitrogen compounds, respectively. Little research exists for either species, possibly because of the difficulty in working with crustose lichens. This research attempted to expand the background knowledge of these species by exposing them to varying levels of O3 and HNO3, to ascertain their physiological responses. Physiological measures of chlorophyll fluorescence, dark respiration, microscopic imaging, and lichen washes (as a proxy for membrane leakage), were measured throughout the exposure period. Results indicated that both species had similar sensitivities to O3 and HNO3. Both species registered physical damage during the O3 fumigation, as well as a decrease in respiration. Neither species showed major physical damage to HNO3, but both manifested a decrease in chlorophyll fluorescence, suggesting damage to the photosynthetic systems of the algae symbiont. These results suggest that both of these species could be used as passive bioindicators for O3, but may not be technically feasible for use as bioindicators of HNO3 pollution. Overall, this research expanded the background knowledge of these two crustose species, their possible interactions between the fungal and algal components, their susceptibilities to two different pollutants, and their potential use as passive bioindicators for atmospheric pollution.

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