Nitrogen deposition effects on tissue chemistry and phosphatase activity in Cladonia foliacea (Huds.) Willd., a common terricolous lichen of semi-arid Mediterranean shrublands

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In this article we evaluate the potential use of Cladonia foliacea tissue N content, C:N ratio, and phosphomonoesterase (PME) activity as biomarkers of N deposition by means of a field experiment. In order to do this, we continuously added NH4NO3 to a semi-arid shrubland at four rates: 0, 10, 20 and 50 kg N ha−1 yr−1 starting in October 2007. Tissue N content and C:N ratios, considered as N stress indicators, significantly increased and decreased, respectively, after 1.5 years. The response found suggests N saturation above 20 kg N ha−1 yr−1. After 2.5 years, extracellular PME activity increased with 20 kg N ha−1 yr−1 and this was attributed to an induced nutritional (N to P) imbalance. Above this threshold, PME significantly decreased as a consequence of the physiological stress caused by extra N. Effects on PME were dependent on the soil properties (pH and Ca and Mg availability) experienced by C. foliacea. PME response suggests a critical load of ∼26.4 kg N ha−1 yr−1 (20 kg N ha−1 yr−1 + background) for this lichen. Further tissue chemistry and PME evaluations in C. foliacea and soil surveys conducted along wide N deposition gradients will confirm the potential use of this species as a biomonitor of N pollution and the importance of soil properties on its ability to respond to atmospheric reactive N.