Terrestrial lichen biomass is an important indicator of forage availability for caribou in northern regions, and can indicate vegetation shifts due to climate change, air pollution or changes in vascular plant community structure. Techniques for estimating lichen biomass have traditionally required destructive harvesting that is painstaking and impractical, so we developed models to estimate biomass from relatively simple cover and height measurements. We measured cover and height of forage lichens (including single-taxon and multi-taxa "community" samples, n?=?144) at 73 sites on the Seward Peninsula of northwestern Alaska, and harvested lichen biomass from the same plots. We assessed biomass-to-volume relationships using zero-intercept regressions, and compared differences among two non-destructive cover estimation methods (ocular vs. point count), among four landcover types in two ecoregions, and among single-taxon vs. multi-taxa samples. Additionally, we explored the feasibility of using lichen height (instead of volume) as a predictor of stand-level biomass. Although lichen taxa exhibited unique biomass and bulk density responses that varied significantly by growth form, we found that single-taxon sampling consistently under-estimated true biomass and was constrained by the need for taxonomic experts. We also found that the point count method provided little to no improvement over ocular methods, despite increased effort. Estimated biomass of lichen-dominated communities (mean lichen cover: 84.9±1.4%) using multi-taxa, ocular methods differed only nominally among landcover types within ecoregions (range: 822 to 1418 g m-2). Height alone was a poor predictor of lichen biomass and should always be weighted by cover abundance. We conclude that the multi-taxa (whole-community) approach, when paired with ocular estimates, is the most reasonable and practical method for estimating lichen biomass at landscape scales in northwest Alaska.
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