#SciFri: What’s that lichen?
During a recent walk along the North Downs Way recently with my good friend Vanessa, we stumbled across some trees that were covered in lichen. Being the curious types that we are, we collected some twigs from these trees and brought them back to identify. Lichens are a group of organisms that I have personally neglected despite the fact I admire their beauty. I often note their colour and patterns when growing on tombstones, trees or sea walls. For those of you that aren’t aware, a lichen is not a single organism. In this regard, they are like the corals of woodlands and disturbed habitats. They are in fact a symbiotic organism comprising a fungus and an alga, with some also containing cyanobacteria. If you’d like to know more about the lichen found throughout Britain, please visit the British Lichen Society website here.
Being the nerd that I am, when we got home and after we’d had a cuppa, we got my microscope out to help identify the species we’d found. This was also a brilliant time to wonder at the minute details of the lichen, including its delicate structure. I’ve recently purchased some extra bits and pieces for my microscope that I hope to use in the near future. Unfortunately it is one of the more underused pieces of kit I own, however it was in almost daily use during periods of my undergrad when I was busy sorting insect samples. Now that I’ve got a proper stage plate again and some more eyepieces on the way, it will hopefully feature more heavily on this blog so keep an eye out! Back to the lichens, it turns out that we were looking at just the one species belonging to the genus Xanthoria.
This was certainly a fun experience and I’m certainly going to do it again when the opportunity arises. As far as I can tell, the lichen is Xanthoria parietina or the common orange lichen (also called yellow scales) – but please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong! Lichens are important members of ecosystems as they enable algae to live in many different climates, including hospitable ones. Think of all the places you’ve found lichen flourishing where there is generally no other visible organism there – such as brick walls. Lichens like plants, also help to convert carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into tissues through photosynthesis. Lichens can also be used as bioindicators providing us with information on air pollution and other such factors. They really are an amazing group of organisms! The handy guides on the British Lichen Society website really helped us to identify which species this was, so be sure to check them out if you’re curious about lichen too.
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