New research from the University of Guelph lends support to protecting an old-growth forest in Sudbury, Ont.
The study, conducted by researchers from the School of Environmental Sciences and Guelph’s Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, examined the lichen communities in the Wolf Lake stand of trees in northern Ontario. Lichens consist of a fungus and a photosynthetic partner, normally green algae.
The Wolf Lake stand is the largest old-growth red pine forest in the world, but is threatened by active mining leases and claims. Wolf Lake is located 50 km northeast of downtown Sudbury. Trees as old as 300 years have been found there.
“Old-growth pine forests are complex systems and contain much more biodiversity than meets the eye,” said Guelph environmental sciences professor Madhur Anand, one of the study’s authors.
“That biodiversity translates directly into all kinds of ecosystem services. Lichens are an often-ignored aspect of biodiversity, but can be important for many things from indicating pollution levels to providing food for other species.”
Many lichen species rely on habitat provided by old-growth forests. The researchers saw differences in lichen diversity between stands. The study provides a unique inventory of an often-overlooked group of species in rare and poorly understood ecosystems, said Anand.
“We must do everything we can to protect these forests,” she said.
“They give us scientific benchmarks for everything from biodiversity to forest response to climate change. This knowledge will be useful for industry and government.”
Old-growth red pine forests have dwindled in North America because of timber harvesting, land conversion and other human uses. Today they cover less than one per cent of their original range.
Anand said forest managers need to know about overall diversity within different stands.
“Our results demonstrate to land managers that different types of old-growth forests are ecologically unique, even those dominated by tree species in the same genus. Therefore old-growth red pine forests may need to be managed differently from old-growth white pine forests.”
Any short-term benefits of cutting down forests may be outweighed by long-term consequences.
“Old-growth red pine forests are endangered ecosystems. The largest remaining stand occurs in northern Ontario but is facing threats from mineral exploration. Our study provides further support to preserve this ecosystem for the long-term benefits that it provides to humanity.”
The study, “Lichen community in two old-growth pine forests,” is published in The Lichenologist.