Summer activity patterns for a moss and lichen in the maritime Antarctic with respect to altitude

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There is considerable scientific interest as to how terrestrial biodiversity in Antarctica might respond, or be expected to respond, to climate change. The two species of vascular plant confined to the Antarctic Peninsula have shown clear gains in density and range extension. However, little information exists for the dominant components of the flora, lichens and bryophytes. One approach has been to look at change in biodiversity using altitude as a proxy for temperature change and previous results for Livingston Island suggested that temperature was the controlling factor. We have extended this study at the same site by using chlorophyll fluorometers to monitor activity and microclimate of the lichen, Usnea aurantiaco-atra, and the moss, Hymenoloma crispulum. We confirmed the same lapse rate in temperature but show that changes in water relations with altitude is probably the main driver. There were differences in water source with U. aurantiaco-atra benefitting from water droplet harvesting and the species performed substantially better at the summit. In contrast, activity duration, chlorophyll fluorescence and photosynthetic modelling all show desiccation to have a large negative impact on the species at the lowest site. We conclude that water relations are the main drivers of biodiversity change along the altitudinal gradient with nutrients, not measured here, as another possible contributor.
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