Taking a Liking to Lichens

Cladonia, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, CA. Photo by Sarah Burstein.
Cladonia, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, CA. Photo by Sarah Burstein.

During the fall quarter I have seriously taken a liking to lichens. I started looking into lichens as part of an assignment for our Special Methods in Environmental Education class. During the course, we created  activities to be included in the SEEC’s Natural Science Kits that are available to local educators in the Rogue Valley. I chose to do my activity on lichens for the Forest Ecology Kit.

Lichens are composite organisms made up of a fungus and a photosynthetic partner, either an algae or a cyanobacteria, or sometimes both. The fungus and its partner have a symbiotic relationship, which is a long term relationship between individuals of two different species. Many biologists believe that the fungus provides the body structure or home and the algae or cyanobacteria provides food via photosynthesis. As evidence for mutualism, biologists site that lichens can grow in habitats where neither partner would be able to survive independently. In fact, lichens inhabit every continent! However, there is currently some debate whether lichen symbiosis is truly mutualistic.

Letharia vulpina, Siskiyou Mountain Park, Ashland, OR. Photo by Sarah Burstein.
Letharia vulpina, Siskiyou Mountain Park, Ashland, OR. Photo by Sarah Burstein.

After learning a little about lichens, I set out to identify local species. Lo and behold, as soon as you start looking, lichens are everywhere! This post features photos of my new favorite lichens-I hope you lichen them as much as I do.

Did you know?

Lichens inhabit the uninhabitable, making home on rocks, tree branches and trunks, sidewalks and pavement, sand and even tundra.

The first organism to be named after President Obama is a lichen: Caloplaca obamae

Lichens can be used to monitor air pollution as different species are sensitive to different pollutants.

Lobaria,  Oredson Todd Woods, Ashland, OR. Photo by Sarah Burstein.
Lobaria, Oredson Todd Woods, Ashland, OR. Photo by Sarah Burstein.
Pilophorus acicularis, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, CA. Photo by Sarah Burstein.
Pilophorus acicularis, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, CA. Photo by Sarah Burstein.
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