The lichens Parmelia olivacea and Parmeliopsis ambigua are common epiphytes in subarctic forests in Europe. They differ in abundance and vertical distribution particularly on birch trees, and these differences relate to the level and duration of the winter snow cover. Parmeliopsis ambigua is covered much of the cold season on the lower trunk whereas P. olivacea occurs well above the snow surface. Periods over 6 months under snow have no apparent effect on P. ambigua thalli while much shorter snow cover has been demonstrated to kill P. olivacea. It was hypothesized that the contrasting distributions are due to differences in growth rates and in size and quality of non-structural carbon stores in their tissues affecting their endurance to extended periods of dark respiration. To test these hypotheses, growth measurements were performed on both species and their thalli were sampled for chemical analyses. The results show that the mean annual margin extension growth of P. olivacea thalli was significantly higher than that of P. ambigua, i.e. 1.1 mm and 0.5 mm, respectively. The average non-structural carbohydrate concentration in the two species did not differ, but the annual concentration of storage lipids (triacylglycerol) in P. ambigua was four times higher than that in P. olivacea, despite a shorter growing season and lower rate of photosynthesis. The proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids in structural (polar) lipids was high in both species, i.e. 77% in P. olivacea and 64% in P. ambigua, which appears to enable both species to withstand low ambient thallus temperatures. The higher concentration of storage lipids in P. ambigua allows survival in environments where P. olivacea would respire to death, e.g. under a prolonged snow cover. Parmeliopsis ambigua avoids competition by establishing toward the base of the tree trunk, where P. olivacea would not survive.
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Vol. 114 • No. 3