Lichens combine both fungal and algal organisms in a symbiotic relationship. They are hugely diverse - there are hundreds of UK species living in a wide range of environments with quite specific needs for particular living conditions. Some species are particularly sensitive to air pollution and have been used as indicators of air quality and the recovery of impacted ecosystems.
The Museum has particularly good collections of lichens and is involved in a number of collaborations in the UK to develop skills and public involvement in lichen monitoring. Holger Thus is the lichen curator for the NHM, working with Pat Wolseley, one of the Museum's expert Scientific Associates.
The Museum's Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity (AMC) hosted the first part of a two-part course “Introducing Lichens” run by the British Lichen Society and supported by OPAL, the Lottery Fund and the NHM. Seventeen participants filled the AMC to capacity and a survey-element in the Museum's Wildlife garden resulted in the surprise of a new record for the sensitive lichen species Parmotrema perlatum from the tiny patch of green space surrounding the museum. The second part of this course, which will also be hosted by the AMC, will focus on identification training and will be held on the April 2nd (it is also fully booked, with a waiting list of potential further participants).
Pat and Holger have also begin a joint project, with partners from La Sainte Union Catholic Secondary School and the London Borough of Camden, for pupils to assess air quality in the vicinity of their school using lichens as bio-indicators and comparing their results with those collected from measurements using the technology infrastructure of Camden Council.