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Effects of lichen, Sphagnum spp. and feather moss leachates on jack pine and black spruce seedling growth



The main objective of this study was to evaluate the influence of leachates from three typical boreal forest ground layers on young tree growth and to explore the linkages between the chemical composition of the leachates, tree growth, the allocation between belowground and aboveground parts, and ectomycorrhizal colonization.


An original 6-month greenhouse experiment was set up to investigate (i) the effects of lichen (Cladonia spp.) and feather moss (Pleurozium schreberii [Brid.] Mitt.) leachates on jack pine (Pinus banksiana Lamb.) growth and (ii) the effects of feather moss and Sphagnum spp. leachates on black spruce (Picea mariana [Mill.] B.S.P.) growth.


Belowground growth and root allocation was reduced by lichen leachates in 2-year-old pine seedlings, while the impact was significant on both below- and aboveground growth in 6-month-old pine seedlings. A substance having the same migration time as usnic acid was detected in the lichen leachates by high-performance liquid chromatography. Sphagnum spp. and feather moss leachates were not found to have any effect on black spruce seedling growth, despite a higher supply of dissolved inorganic N in the feather moss leachates compared to the leachates of Sphagnum spp. and the control.


These results demonstrate that ground layer composition plays a crucial role in shaping the plant community in boreal ecosystems by influencing the chemical composition of the soil solution. They suggest that chemical interference may be another mechanism by which lichens promote the self-perpetuation of open woodlands in the closed-crown boreal forest.

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This work was financially supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Fonds de Recherche du Québec - Nature et Technologies, the Chair in Sustainable Forest Management (NSERC-Université du Québec en Abitibi-Temiscamingue, UQAT-Université du Québec à Montréal) and an NSERC Collaborative Research and Development UQAT-Tembec-Chantiers Chibougamau grant. We thank D. Labrecque (Ministère des forêts, de la Faune et des Parcs du Québec) for seed and seedling supply; E. Pouliot, F. Pelletier, S. Dagnault, F. Michaud and J. Morissette for their help and advice in the greenhouse; H. Massicotte and S. Gauthier for their advice and support; J. Beguin for his support in statistical analyses; B. Gadet, L. Auger, S. Laflèche, R. Plusquellec and R. Julien for their help and advice in the field; S. Rousseau for soil analysis; and M. Cusson for his help and advice regarding HPLC analysis.

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Correspondence to M. Pacé.

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Pacé, M., Paré, D., Fenton, N.J. et al. Effects of lichen, Sphagnum spp. and feather moss leachates on jack pine and black spruce seedling growth. Plant Soil 452, 441–455 (2020).

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  • Allelopathy
  • Forest productivity
  • Ground layer
  • Regeneration failure
  • Soil solution
  • Usnic acid