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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2024

The response of epiphytic lichens on living and dead Pinus sylvestris to prescribed fires of varying severity

Nirhamo, Aleksi; Hamalainen, Aino; Hamalainen, Karoliina; Kouki, Jari


Prescribed burning can be used to restore forest ecosystems degraded by anthropogenic pressures. However, some species such as epiphytic lichens may be vulnerable to fire. We studied the effects of fire on epiphytic lichens on living and dead Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine) by surveying lichens up to two meters on the trunks 21 years after experimental and replicated prescribed burnings in pine-dominated boreal forests in Finland. We investigated three types of stands that had faced different levels of fire severity: 1) unburned semi-natural mature stands (i.e., control sites), 2) burned semi-natural mature stands, and 3) burned retention groups on clearcut sites. In the semi-natural mature stands, the fires were low-severity surface fires and induced negligible mortality in P. sylvestris. In the retention groups, the fires induced high tree mortality and made fresh deadwood the dominant substrate type. Low-severity fires reduced the occurrence of several species, but usually did not eliminate them. High-severity fires eliminated some species, but the abundant deadwood frequently hosted some species that were absent or infrequent on the unburned sites. Thus, the fires had only small effects on total species richness. However, fires substantially changed species composition: they reduced the occurrence of species associated with late-successional habitats, while increasing the occurrence of early-successional species. We also found fires to decrease the occurrence of microlichens and increase that of macrolichens. The magnitude of the compositional changes increased with fire severity. Our findings indicate that the high quantities of fresh deadwood in post-disturbance forests provide habitat only to a limited portion of deadwood-associated lichens. Fire can increase landscape-scale variation in epiphytic lichen communities, but we observed negative effects, which increased with fire severity, on lichen flora of conservation concern. Thus, we recommend prescribed burning to be applied primarily in sites with a history of intensive management. Fire should be avoided in sites with substrates that are fire-sensitive and important to lichen diversity.


Coarse woody debris; Disturbance; Early-successional forests; Fire management; Scots pine; Wildfire

Published in

Forest Ecology and Management
2024, Volume: 551, article number: 121558
Publisher: ELSEVIER

    Associated SLU-program

    SLU Plant Protection Network

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Forest Science

    Publication identifier


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