Lichen samples from different parts of the world have been known to accumulate elements to a greater degree than higher plants, if they are exposed to these elements from the atmosphere or from water and sediments. It has been hypothesized that lichens can be used to monitor air pollution around point and area emission sources. Local variation (variation in substrate, age and morphology of lichen samples) of element concentrations would not be large enough to affect the concentration patterns in large areas. We tested this hypothesis in the Aegean region of Turkey, which is very urbanized and industrialized. No such study has been conducted before in this part of the country. A total of 234 samples of the lichen Xanthoria parietina were collected from a 51 800-km(2) area. Samples were washed and analyzed by INAA and ICP-AES for 35 elements. The range of the concentrations for most of the elements on a local scale was an order of magnitude lower than for the element concentrations on a regional scale. The mean local coefficient of variance (CV) was found to be 15, providing that the local variation did not affect the concentration of elements in the sampling region. According to cluster analysis, 8 (As, Hg, Pb, Sb, Fe, Mn, Na and K) elements are indicative of important local pollution locations and their zone of impact in the region. By mapping the concentrations of eight indicative elements in lichen Xanthoria parietina of the Aegean region, it was possible to relate deposition to the existence of known sources of pollution in certain areas. Location of pollution sources such as iron-steel plants, and coal burning in the cities, industrial activity and two important coal-fired power plants generally corresponded with locations of highest element accumulations in the lichens. (C) 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.