The majority of estimates of isolation by distance are produced byindirect molecular methods rather than direct observation of dispersal events orcolonisation rates. This is in part due to technical difficulties in recordingrare dispersal events in the field, and may be limiting the testing ofmetapopulation models. The fact that tombstones are dated on erection was usedto perform direct measurements of rates of colonisation for two contrasting speciesof crustose lichen, Candelariella vitellina andPlacynthium nigrum, which occur commonly on sandstone andgranite headstones, respectively. The effects of isolation by distancewere observed in the colonisation of sandstone by C. vitellina within the first 50 years of the erection of headstones in thesmallest of three burial grounds investigated in northeast Scotland. When therate of colonisation was estimated over different periods of time the effect ofisolation by distance was seen to decline as the stones aged. There was noapparent effect of isolation by distance on the rate of colonisation of graniteheadstones by P. nigrum at any of the three study sites atany period of colonisation. This study suggests that effects of isolation by distance are likely to behighly case specific, varying between species, between sites and over time. Thisimplies that great care should be taken when producing parameter estimates formetapopulation models.