Skip navigation
You are here: Home > NaturePlus > Blogs > Tags

Blog Posts

Blog Posts

Items per page
0

This morning I followed Holger Thues (Curator of Lichens) to a remarkable place.

 

PIC 1 (Custom).JPGNot just any old trees ...

 

At first glance this short row of trees looks little more than a typical, beautiful countryside scene. However, these are elm trees and trees like these are a sight that has become exceptionally rare across Europe.

 

 

An increasingly rare sight in Britain and much of Europe, elm trees

 

Dutch elm disease has destroyed virtually all of the adult elm population in lower land Britain and much of Europe, and now many people only know elms from paintings and pictures.

 

PIC 2 (Custom).JPGThe open canopy and twisted branches of elm trees

 

The elm has an open canopy and the trees bend and twist in a magical way that leaves a wonderfully spooky shadow. The Isles of Scilly are one of the last places you can see adult elms - the tree still survives on the mainland as a shrub, but as soon as it gets to a certain size the beetle which transmits dutch elm disease, can burrow into the bark and pass on the infection. Of course, Dutch elm disease has effected much more than just the elms themselves. These trees supported other life, including lichens and Holger showed me one of the rarer lichens that live on elm.

 

 

It isn't just the trees that are affected when they succumb to Dutch elm disease.

 

Tragically, this lichen also lives on ash and with ash dieback destroying so many trees, it has a bleak future. Holger described it as the ‘dodo of the lichen world’, forced into making bad decisions that ultimately could be it’s downfall.

 

PIC 3 (Custom).JPGBacidia incompta (elm lichen), whose existence is linked to the under threat elms and ash trees

 

More optimistically, Holger found a very healthy population of a species that has declined dramatically over the last 100 years in the rest of the UK.

 

PIC 4 (Custom).JPGHeterodermia leucomela

 

 

This is a tropical lichen that now has the south west of Cornwall as it’s most northerly outpost. It is very rare in the rest of Britain but it seems the population here is doing very well.

 

Holger also showed me this photo of a specimen collected 100 years ago on Scilly - he was keen to find out if it was still here and if it was still so large! The size of the lichen is a sign of it’s vitality and it only occurs in a few local parts of the Uk and on Scilly.

 

PIC 5 (Custom).JPGRoccella fuciformis, collected 100 years ago on the Isles of Scilly

 

You can see it is still doing well on the islands.

 

PIC 6 (Custom).jpgRoccella fuciformis, still doing well on the Isles of Scilly

 

 

It goes to show how important collections are, specimens tell us so much much more than absence or presence. They tell us about the strength of a plant at a given time, what it looked like and how it was living and this means we can make judgments on it’s role in the ecosystem.

 

It really is a treat spending time with Holger; as a lichenologist he looks at the world in a completely different way to other scientists and the things that normally pass unnoticed become much larger and more interesting.

 

PIC 7 (Custom).JPGHolger sees the world in a different way

 

Although I have spent each day following different scientists, I think some of the most memorable moments have been in the evenings when the scientists come together, talk about what they have found and go through their specimens. I took this photo after dinner

 

PIC 8 (Custom).JPGThe evening sort

 

The table is turned into a mess of equipment, specimens and reference books and exciting finds are shared amongst the group. It’s not possible to know everything about the natural world but it is possible to try and become friends with enough experts to give you a good idea!

 

By the way, if you would like to do some science of your own and help an important study, find out how to take part in the OPAL project's Tree Health Survey.

0

Today started dull and overcast - grey and gloomy - but we weren’t going to let the weather get us down because this morning we did our first, live video conference from the field with schools. Students from all over the country get to talk with our scientists and ask questions about what they are doing here in the Isles of Scilly.

 

New Image2.jpg

Tom chatting to Mark during a video conference with students at a primary school.

 

In the first VC, primary school students got to meet Mark Spencer, the botanist of the group and team leader, and Jon Ablett, Curator of Molluscs. Mark did a small tour of the wild flowers we can find here, explaining that the Isles are located at a crossroads between Mediterranean plants and northern ones.

 

The relatively mild climate of the islands mean that plants that are usually more typical of Mediterranean countries find a home here, while for other species, the Isles mark their southern-most limit. It’s an overlapping landscape, which is a delight for us to experience, and a joy for the many species of insects and birds who pollinate these plants.

 

flowers2.jpg

Museum scientists taking in the beautiful scenery, while Holger Thues (far left) is distracted by a rock covered in lichen!

 

Jon Ablett showed some of his slugs and talked about innovative ways of preserving specimens for the Museum’s collection, while the white vapours of liquid nitrogen made Mark and Tom (who was hosting the event) feel even more cold. Jon is looking mainly for land snails, but will also try to fish for some octopus and squid as we are not sure which species live in these waters. Keep an eye on this blog to find out what he discovers!

 

The secondary school students had the chance to meet lichen curator Holger Thues. Holger explained that lichens are composite organisms (comparable to corals), meaning they are a combination of a fungus and an algae living side-by-side in a symbiotic relationship (i.e. they both benefit from one another). Lichens are incredibly important indicators of the environment around them and are often used to study changes in the atmosphere and air pollution.

 

bird poo lichen2.jpg

Orange lichen on a rock, but how did it get its nutrients?

 

The orange lichen in the photo above only exists in places with high levels of nutrients, you will see them near the sea where the wind itself is loaded with nutrients. However, if you see them on a rock in land, wait and with time you’re more than likely to see a bird arrive ...  you’ll soon find out how the nutrients arrived there!

 

Thanks to all the schools for their many questions during the video conferences, it was great to speak to you all!

0

South Georgia's flora is particularlly rich in cryptogams. While hiking across hills and mountains in South Georiga for interesting soil sampling spots, I also came across a lot of beautiful lichens. Common lichen genera were Caldonia, Usnea and Diploschistes.  There are also several fern species growing in South Georgia and hude amount of moss species, which often cover whole streams; so called "moss streams".

 

  IMG_8237.jpg

The lichen genus Cladonia in the centre of the image


                                                                      IMG_9077.jpg

The lichen genus Usnea

                                                                      IMG_8238.jpg

The lichen genus Diploschistes

                                                                      IMG_8089.jpg

The fern genus Polystichum


IMG_8152.jpg

Moss stream


IMG_8153.jpg

0

Another day, another site. We’re over half way through our time here, and Dan’s pretty happy with how things have been going.  The team have learnt how to position their pitfall traps so that they don’t fill up with rainwater and sediment in the extremely wet conditions of the rainforest (far less of a problem in the New Forest where they’ve been sampling for the past ten years and using the same trapping methods).

 

Keiron-and-pitfall-trap.jpg

Kieron reveals the contents of his Pitfall trap…including a cockroach.

 

At previous sample sites, the team have also had to contend with animals stealing their Pitfall traps (pigs are the main suspect).  There are some things you can’t always plan for when carrying out experiments!

 

Holger-and-Pat-studying-tree.jpg

 

Pat and Holger take a closer look at the lichens on the tree.

 

The lichenologists, Pat and Holger, were hard at work today.  As with every day, they came out to the sample site with us and were studying the lichens on the trees.  At each site, they choose twelve trees to study and sample from.  These are a mixture of small and large trees and are a variety of different species, all factors that can influence the species of lichen living on the bark.

 

Local-botanist.jpg

 

Local botanist Mr Kho Ju Ming helps Pat and Holger identify the different species of trees.  He has to use binoculars to see the leaves clearly (which will help him identify the tree) because they are so high up!

 

Lichens are fascinating. They are composite systems (comparable to corals), meaning they are a combination of a fungus and an algae living side by side in a symbiotic relationship (they both benefit from one another).  Lichens occur almost everywhere, surviving in some of the most extreme environments in the world. They are abundant and diverse in rainforests, and there are many to be found here in Maliau. 

 

Pat-marking-tree.jpg

 

Pat ties a piece of string around a tree that is to be sampled.

 

Once Pat and Holger have selected the trees they are going to study, they set up a ladder quadrat on the trunk and begin to identify the lichens.  If they find a lichen they need to check in the laboratory, they write a brief description of it and give it a field nickname.  For example, Pat and Holger have given one of the lichens the nickname Herpothallon ‘woolly’.

 

 

Pat and Holger explain how they study and sample the lichens on trees.

 

There are many animals that have evolved similar colours and patterning to lichens, helping them to avoid predators.  This moth we found, although large, can easily go unnoticed resting against the lichen.

 

Lichen-moth.jpg

 

A night-time visitor to the Studies Centre.

 

It can be hard to get a good view of the rainforest when you’re walking along the ground, the tree canopy is very far above.   To get a slightly better view, Tony and I went up onto the ‘Sky Bridge’, near the edge of the forest.  It requires a good head for heights, in places reaching 21 metres above the ground. But this is still only a fraction of the height of many of the trees here in Maliau, some of which reach up to 70 metres.

 

 

The Sky Bridge allows you to get closer to the forest canopy, although still not that close!

 

Team-from-above.jpg

 

Tony and I had a bird’s eye view of Dan, Kerry and Kieron from the canopy walk.

 

Finally, remember the massive ant in one of yesterday’s videos?  Well, today we found something even bigger – possibly a Queen ant of the same species (Camponotus gigas) but a lot bigger than the workers we usually see around the forest floor.  Huge!

 

Large-ant-queen.jpg

 

Possibly a Queen Ant of the species Camponotus gigas.

0

Today I had a meeting with the INBIO education department - they are doing some amazing things over here and I’m really looking forward to working with them in the future!

 

INBIO parque is a great place to visit - a botanical garden designed to reflect the whole (enormous) biodiversity of Costa Rica.

 

Day 16 PIC 1.jpg

Day 16 PIC 2.jpg

Day 16 PIC 3.jpg

(Click images to see them full size)

 

They also have some really cool animals living in the parque – I saw this iguana crossing the car park!

 

Day 16 PIC 4.jpg

 

Over the past few weeks we have received some great questions from schools all over the UK, which hopefully we have answered! We received the following early on:

 

Hello everyone,

 

We are from a School in Camden, London. We have been working with Holger Thüs on an exciting project on air quality and lichen distribution in our local area. With help from Holger and Pat Wolseley from the Natural History Museum, we surveyed lichens growing on trees in the school grounds and adjacent Hampstead Heath.

 

We wanted to investigate the relationship between differences in air quality, particularly the levels of NO2 and the lichen species found. We monitored NO2 over 5 months with diffusion tubes placed along a transect either side of Highgate Road, which is a busy road and likely to be a major source of nitrogen pollution, and included locations in the school grounds and on Hampstead Heath.

 

We identified the lichens on trees within the vicinity of the school and on the adjacent Hampstead Heath. We tested and found evidence for our hypothesis that there was a correlation between the levels of nitrogen dioxide in the diffusion tubes and biological data from the lichens distribution.

 

Although, we managed to find and identify Nitrogen loving and intermediate lichen but we didn’t find any Nitrogen sensitive lichens. We are really excited about Holger being in Costa Rica and want to know if Holger has found Nitrogen sensitive lichens there. Are there many fructose lichens? Did you find any new species of lichens? Are the lichens really colourful and exotic?

 

We initially thought the NHM team was going to be somewhere really lovely and hot but Holger told us that although it would be lovely it would be very cold because they would be up in the mountains. The air must be very clean. We really want to know about the lichens there.

 

Good Luck with the rest of the trip.

 

LSU

 

 

And today we had a chance to answer in detail…

 

 

Back at INBIO I have been flicking through the photos I (and the others) took while in the park. It seems a common theme amongst my photos is food. Pictures of all of the meals I ate in the field - I can practically hear myself salivating over the camera. I’ve put them together in a film. Bon appetite!

 

 

 

------------------

 

Note: Tom is currently on his way back to the UK, so I am posting his final blogs from Costa Rica on his behalf.
Jonathan - NaturePlus host

2

Last night, we arrived back at the hut just before dark and ate a dinner of soup (chicken) and rice (sin bean). Over dinner we learnt that, in our absence, Holger and Jo had a productive time (more on that below) and it was nice to be all back together again.

 

Today I stayed at the hut (checking everything was working for our next live-video-link back to the Museum which will be happening just as this is published) so I had the chance to chat to one of the porters assisting our trip.

 

Day 10 PIC 1.JPG

(From left to right) Leandro Vargas Astavia and Greyner Vargas Astavia
Daniel Lezcano Arguello and Carlos Godinez Cardenas

 

Daniel Lezcano Arguello started off by apologising for laughing at my new nickname - which has morphed from Yeti via Crouchy (as in Peter, the lanky, robot-dancing footballer) to Pie-Grande. I pointed out that Yeti and Pie-Grande are absolutely fine but Crouchy has most definitely got to go - I am an Arsenal FC fan!

 

He told me about his life when he is not working as a guide or porter. He is a farmer and has 5 hectares near the entrance to Amistad National Park where he grows coffee and bananas and keeps pigs and cows. The coffee he sells to a large Costa Rican company although he keeps a bit back for personal use as he prefers to know what is in his morning cuppa. The bananas are used to feed the cows and pigs.

 

The cows are for milk and he makes cheese, and the pigs are for meat. He also grows some vegetables and we swapped allotment stories although he seemed pretty unconvinced it was possible to grow anything in British temperatures.

 

He said he is typical of the porters in that they all farm when not guiding people through the park. This trip (like most field work, I imagine) would be impossible without the help of the porters.

 

They prepare trails and camps and ferry specimens and food to and from the field, and they carry extraordinary amounts and move incredibly quickly through the forest. This is the head porter and our guide Carlos.

 

Day 10 PIC 2.jpg

Head porter Carlos making his work look easy while I struggle to keep up (hence the blurry photo!)

 

He is carrying a backpack, a few litres of water, camping equipment for 4 and - if that wasn’t enough already - a shovel.

 

Day 10 PIC 3.jpg

Leandro taking a breather

 

I am in awe of their strength and athletic ability at this altitude and their commitment to our trip. They have an invaluable knowledge of the forest and are key in helping us find interesting sites and species. Also, they are vital for the conservation of the park so we are doubly thankful for what they do.

 

Species of the day today goes to Holger - the result of 2 hours hard work, blood, sweat and tears!

 

Day 10 PIC 4.JPG

 

Holger found three different stream lichens with a high likelihood that they may be new for Costa Rica and maybe even new to science.

 

Day 10 PIC 5.JPG

 

 

This lichen is a representative of the family Lichinacae and fresh water species of this family are commonly found in Nordic countries.

 

Day 10 PIC 6.JPG

 

Day 10 PIC 7.JPG

 

Holger didn’t expect to find something like this here and all of the lichens Holger has found reflect a climate far, far colder than would have been expected - something we can vouch for during the long cold nights!

 

This is why lichens are so important in that that they tell us so much about our environment. Sadly, no video today – I hope to get back to business tomorrow.

 

(Just a quick reminder that Alex is also writing his own blog about our trip and you can read it here and that our next live-video-links with the Museum are at 12.30 and 14.30 on Saturday 18 February)

1

So today I have had the chance to spend a bit of time at the hut - I made a video to hopefully give you an idea of what it’s like! (Also I meant the water is clean enough to drink, not eat! Sorry it must be the altitude, which is 2,500 metres - you can see on Google Maps the exact location of where we are.)

 

 

For breakfast the ubiquitous rice and beans made a welcome appearance - last night was really cold (definitely in the lower single figures!) so some hot food and drink was more than welcome. By mid-day it had warmed up considerably and the sun was hot.

 

(I should make it clear that I am in no way complaining about rice and beans - I love them! Last night they were joined by a hot, steaming pot of chicken soup and dinner was great.)

 

The scientists went out collecting today (the first chance to have a proper explore since they arrived) and they found some great stuff! However, Neil has already suffered some really nasty sandfly bites.

 

Day-4-PIC-1.jpg

(Click the images to see them full-sized)


N.B. I've enhanced the colour of this photo a little so that you can see the bites more clearly.

 

Species of the day goes to Holger (although he found it yesterday). It’s on this stone, which he found in a nearby stream 30 cm below the water level. He had to chisel the lump off with both hands underwater and he described it as the single most difficult specimen he has ever collected.

 

Day-4-PIC-2.jpg

 

It’s a representative of the genus Hydropunctaria and this is the first time it has ever been recorded in tropical America - it is found widespread in more temperate areas and in cold mountain streams in SE Asia and South Africa.

 

It is one of the best indicators of a stable stream bed and only lives in constantly cold water. Therefore it is an important species to know about when considering climate change. Now that Holger has found this specimen future generations will know that it was living here in 2012.

 

Day-4-PIC-3.jpg

 

Now it may look like a dark patch on a dirty rock (Alex’s words not mine!) but Holger gave the following quote:

 

‘Perfect circular shape, a beautiful olive green hue and a texture of half solid jelly which is just amazing.’

 

Wow, I’m going to have a cold shower ... which is good news as we don’t have any hot water! I’m going to blog more about lichens next week.

 

With one new discovery under our belts, I hope the photos from my previous posts give you an indication of just how rich the plant life is here. Alex tells me that there are more than twice as many species of plant in this park alone than in the whole of the UK.

 

Day-4-PIC-4.jpg

 

He has written a really nice piece on his own blog about the forest here - do have a read.

 

Finally, if you want to experience a live video-link direct from our hut to London tomorrow (and also on the 16 and 18 Feb) please come to the Nature Live event in the Museum's Attenborough Studio to say hello! They'll be held at 12:30 and 14:30 and (barring any technical issues) we're going to be joining the event to answer questions from the Studio and to show you a few specimens.

 

Jo (Nature Live host) and Erica McAlister from the Department of Entomology will be in the Studio to talk about field work, why it’s so important, what it’s like and how you do it, etc., so please do pop down to South Kensington.

 

Also, I wanted to let you know that, unfortunately, due to my limited internet connection I can't see your comments until they are e-mailed to me, so my apologies if you have had any questions which remain unanswered – I’ll do my best to respond in the next few days.

1

Today we rose early! By 7.00 we had left base camp and were beginning the 6-8 hour trek [I sit here smug, we did it in just over 6] to the hut that is to be our home for the next week and a bit. Breakfast was rice and beans (a theme is emerging!).

 

Day-3-PIC-1.jpg

(Click the images to see them full size)

 

The first half of the trek was uphill (i.e. absolutely knackering) but the views from the occasional break in the canopy were breathtaking and kept us pushing on.

 

Day-3-PIC-4.jpg

 

We are working alongside Costa Rican botanists, one of whom is Daniel. He has an incredible knowledge of the local environment and found this plant, Satyria warszewiczii on our trek.

 

Day-3-PIC-5.jpg

 

The flower’s corolla (a corolla is when all of the flower’s petals have fused into a tube) is edible and tastes a little bit like bitter lemon or blueberries (or vinegar depending on who you ask!):

 

 

After 4 hours we reached the continental divide, the point at which Costa Rica splits between Atlantic and Pacific forest. Water that falls either side of this divide ends up in either the Pacific or Atlantic ocean. Alex had a unique way of explaining this:

 

 

The forest changed dramatically once we were on the Atlantic side - on the Pacific side our path had been dry and dusty but once we crossed over, the forest was damper, darker, cooler and wetter. This is because the prevailing wind blows from the West.

 

The wind picks up moisture from the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea and carries it to the western Atlantic slopes of the forest before dumping it there. Therefore, because less water reaches the Pacific side, it’s much drier.

 

Day-3-PIC-6.jpg

Day-3-PIC-7.jpg

 

The rain increased as we got closer to our hut. We arrived damp and tired but very excited about the days ahead.

 

The camp is made from naturally fallen trees from the forest and the roof is corrugated iron - the sound of the rain drumming above me as I sit inside with a coffee is wonderful!

 

Day-3-PIC-8.jpg

Day-3-PIC-9.jpg

I’ll post some more pictures of the camp tomorrow - the battery in my camera has run out of juice and our generator is not yet up and running.

However, we found some really nice things on the way, this is a beetle grub:

 

Day-3-PIC-10.jpg

Day-3-PIC-11.jpg

 

And this beautiful moth:

 

Day-3-PIC-12.jpg

 

I'll have to see if the Museum's enotmologists know what species they are...

 

Tomorrow we start collecting and the hard work begins but Holger has already had success after popping down to a nearby stream and finding two species of lichen never recorded in Costa Rica before.

 

Tonight, more beans and rice and early to bed.

 

------

 

Remember we'll be live-linking from Costa Rica to the Museum's Attenborough Studio at 12:30 and 14:30 on Saturday 11, Sunday 16 and Saturday 18 February so, if you are in London, come along to see how we are getting on!


The Attenborough Studio is located in the Darwin Centre in the Museum's Orange Zone.

2

The Wright Valley is one of the ice-free Dry Valleys. The Upper Wright valley is characterised by the so-called Labyrinth, which is an area of steep-sided canyons and channels. It is mainly dolerite and most rocks are bright red. Based on the literature it was formed by large 'floods during the mid-Miocene era'.

 

The Labyrinth

 

laby1.jpg

 

In the area you can find many strangely shaped rocks. They are called ventifacts, and are wind- and dirt-sculpted rocks.

 

Ventifacts in the Labyrinth

 

laby3.jpg

 

Wherever you look you only see rocks and it often reminded me of images showing how it may look on Mars.

 

 

Landscapes like on Mars

laby2.jpg

However, there is life. On one of our walks, we found these lichens. They were on the top of one of the ridges, where the overall humidity seems to be higher due to its location at a height of greater than 750 metres, and the greater influence of clouds and fog. Many of the lichens grow under or in cracks of the rocks, and this enhances the erosion of the rocks.

 

 

Lichens on rocks in the Labyrinth

lichen.jpg

lichen2.jpg

lichen3.jpg

 

AND, as soon as you get running water and temporary ponds you get thick accumulations of orange-pigmented mats. To date there have only been few morphological descriptions and there is no DNA-based data available at all.

 

 

Meltwater ponds covered by ice with bright orange mats

pond1.jpg

pond4.jpg

 

 

Orange cyanobacterial-based microbial mats

pond2.jpg

 

 

Close-up of microbial mat

pond3.jpg

0

In February 2011, two botanists from the department, Dr Harald Schneider and Dr Cécile Gueidan, participated in a collecting trip in Northern Vietnam. The trip  aimed at enhancing NHM and Vietnamese collections in ferns, lichens and liverworts from this very species rich area of South-East Asia. It was organized by collaborating partners from the Vietnam National Museum of Nature in Hanoi by the botanists Mr Do Van Truong and Mrs Ngan Lu Thi. The team was also joined by Dr Hongmei Liu, who is a botanist from the Fairylake Botanical Garden in Shenzhen, China.

 

lichen1.JPG

 

After arrival, the team visited the Vietnam National Museum of Nature in Hanoi and studied fern specimens kept in the museum’s collection. They also met Prof. Pham Van Luc, the director of the Vietnam National Museum of Nature, and Harald Schneider and Cécile Gueidan presented their research to the Museum staff and students. Most of the three weeks were spent in different protected areas in the North of Vietnam: the Pa Co-Hang Kia Nature Reserve in the extreme West of the Hoa Binh province, the Bac Me Nature Reserve in the South-Eastern part of the Ha Giang province, the Na Hang Nature Reserve in the North of the Tuyen Quang province and the Ba Be National Park in the North- West of the Bac Kan province. Most of the sites visited included tropical forests at different stages of land use, which ranged from almost entirely deforested areas to few relatively untouched patches of primary forest.

 

lichen2.JPG

Left to right: Hongmei Liu, Harald Schneider, Don Van Truong, Ngan Lu Thi and two guides from the Ba Be National Park

 

 

This collecting trip followed a first visit to Vietnam by Harald Schneider in 2010 and had allowed completing previous collections of ferns from this area. For lichens, only few studies had been carried out in this country and rock substrates had almost not been explored. The lichen specimens collected during this fieldtrip will therefore contribute to the knowledge of the poorly studied lichen flora of Vietnam. In total, we collected 283 specimens of ferns (including at least two new records for Vietnam), 26 specimens of leafy liverworts, and about 400 specimens of lichens.

0

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.

 

Xanthoria NaturalHistoryMuseum_030476_IA.jpg

Xanthoria parietina

 

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.

0

Earlier this year I wrote that Dr William Purvis, one of our lichen experts, was planning a visit to Signy Island to evaluate lichen biodiversity in the Antarctic.


He’s just arrived back in the UK to begin working on the specimens and data he collected, but you can still read his fascinating account of his travels on his blog, Discovering Antarctic Lichens.

 

Nesting Gentoo Penguin by lichen covered rock.jpg

A nesting gentoo penguin by lichen covered rocks.

8

Our scientists’ research takes them to the four corners of the Earth to some dramatic locations to explore the diversity of the natural world. One of our lichen experts, Dr William Purvis, is embarking on a new project to evaluate lichen biodiversity in the Antarctic.


It is one of a number of projects the Museum’s Botany Department is running to investigate the impact climate change is having on lichen biodiversity.


Lichens are known to be excellent environmental indicators – the canaries of the plant /fungal world. William believes that by understanding the vulnerability of different lichen species, we can use them as a warning system for climate change across the planet.


He will be journeying to sub-Antarctic Signy Island, one of the South Orkney Islands situated in the Southern Ocean, to carry out his research. I wanted to find out a bit more about what he was facing so had a quick look at the Signy Research Station page on the British Antarctic Survey website. The general impression I got was… ice and wind! However, William will have plenty to look at as there are many different species of lichens on the island and, along with mosses and liverworts, they are the dominant flora of the island.


William will take fresh samples of saxicolous crustose lichens growing on different mineralised rocks and develop base-line monitoring. His project will generate new specimens not represented in collections, and provide a basis for interdisciplinary studies. The British Antarctic Survey is funding this project as part of their Antarctic Funding Initiative - Collaborative Gearing Scheme (CGS).


I must admit, I never realised just how diverse and stunning lichens could be until I prepared the images for the redeveloped Botany Department webpages. Here are a few of my favourites:


(from top left to bottom right: Pyxine coccifera, a lichen of well-lit tropical forests; Cladonia floerkeana, which prefers acidic habitats; Usnea articulata on twigs in Madeira; Xanthoria aureola, a nitrogen-loving, yellow lichen)


Pyxine-coccifera-200pxhigh.jpg Cladonia-floerkeana-200pxhigh.jpg


Usnea_articulata_200pxhigh.jpgXanthoria-aureola-200pxhigh.jpg

You don’t have to go as far as the Antarctic or visit exotic locations to observe lichens though - they occur in all major ecosystems apart from the deep sea. In fact, if you live in (or are visiting) England you can contribute to the new OPAL air survey and help scientists answer important questions about local air quality. Even if you aren't able to take part, the site has a handy guide to some of the different lichens you can find here.