Critical loads of nitrogen deposition and critical levels of atmospheric ammonia for mediterranean evergreen woodlands
1Universidade de Lisboa, Faculdade de Ciências, Centre for Environmental Biology, Lisboa, Portugal
2Centre for Natural Resources and the Environment, Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade Técnica de Lisboa, Portugal
3Dept. Agricultural Chemistry and Analysis, E.T.S.I. Agrónomos, Technical University of Madrid, Spain
4Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Edinburgh Research Station, Edinburgh, UK
5Universidade de Lisboa, Museu de História Natural, Jardim Botânico, Lisboa, Portugal
Abstract. Nitrogen (N) has emerged in recent years as a key factor associated with global changes, with impacts on biodiversity, ecosystems functioning and human health. In order to ameliorate the effects of excessive N, safety thresholds have been established, such as critical loads (deposition fluxes) and levels (concentrations). For Mediterranean ecosystems, few studies have been carried out to assess these parameters. Our objective was therefore to determine the critical loads of N deposition and long-term critical levels of atmospheric ammonia for Mediterranean evergreen woodlands. For that we have considered changes in epiphytic lichen communities, which have been shown to be one of the most sensitive to excessive N. Based on a classification of lichen species according to their tolerance to N we grouped species into response functional groups, which we used as a tool to determine the critical loads and levels. This was done under Mediterranean climate, in evergreen cork-oak woodlands, by sampling lichen functional diversity and annual atmospheric ammonia concentrations and modelling N deposition downwind from a reduced N source (a cattle barn). By modelling the highly significant relationship between lichen functional groups and N deposition, the critical load was estimated to be below 26 kg (N) ha−1 yr−1, which is within the upper range established for other semi-natural ecosystems. By modelling the highly significant relationship of lichen functional groups with annual atmospheric ammonia concentration, the critical level was estimated to be below 1.9 μg m−3, in agreement with recent studies for other ecosystems. Taking into account the high sensitivity of lichen communities to excessive N, these values should be taken into account in policies that aim at protecting Mediterranean woodlands from the initial effects of excessive N.