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Exploring lichen biodiversity

Posted by William P Dec 31, 2009

November 20 to November 29

When developing a scientific study there is no better way to clarify one's thoughts than to prepare a seminar. It focuses the mind and is an opportunity to receive good advice too.


After cooking dinner on November 20, I gave a presention on ‘Exploring Lichen Biodiversity’. In my talk I mentioned that lichens are excellent bioindicators of environmental change and that Signy is a biodiversity hotspot for lichens and other organisms. Although BAS collections include important historical material from Signy, fresh material is required to help understand environmental change. As a consequence of warming and rapid glacial retreat, new areas are being exposed providing opportunities for lichen colonization both in areas surrounded by ice towards the summit and by the coast.


I received constructive comments from my Signy mates and by the end of my talk had developed a strategy. I obviously would need to focus my sampling on lichens growing on exposed rocks in areas largely free from snow cover! How this would develop would depend on weather and where I could go. When working alone access to the Island is, naturally, restricted.


I would also need to consider various risk assessments including disturbance and vulnerability of populations. Sampling would be kept to a minimum. My first walk on my own was up the Stone Chute - for photography. At that time it was snow covered when damage through trampling would be less of an issue.


Lichen and moss heaths with Bruce and Tony skiing in the distance (encircled) at Factory Bluffs above Stone Chute. Bruce and I had a memorable climb to Robin Peak in amazing weather. I am delighted that a photo taken here will be included in the new edition of my book ‘Lichens


Neuropogon aurantiaco-atra emerging through the snow. Dirk thought the outline was reminiscent of the shape of the Antarctic continent!


Examining lichens on a boulder towards the summit of Green Gable (206m),. Snow was melting down below but it was very cold here, the low temperature further exacerbated by the wind chill.


Close-up showing lichens beneath an intricate pattern of wind eroded, feather-like crystals of ice.


Examining lichens on the cairn of Rusty Bluff (221 m). A splendid ridge walk via the Backslope and Green Gable. Initially ‘manky’, a term frequently used in the South for ‘misty’, the weather became sunny with splendid views.


Lichen sampling site. Slope of Green Gable, looking towards Gourlay snowfield and Paal Harbour.


My laboratory for my stay at Signy base.


Matt and Tony attending to the loo pipe which, helped by elephant seals and ice, had come lose from its anchorage . I guess anyone reading my blog will have spotted the lichens by now!

William P

William P

Member since: Dec 16, 2009

William Purvis, a lichenologist from the Botany Department, is in the Antarctic on the island of Signy conducting research into lichen biodiversity under global climate change. Follow his blog, updated as and when he can from this remote area.

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