Jessica L. Allen is studying for a Ph.D. as a student in the Commodore Matthew Perry Graduate Studies Program at The New York Botanical Garden. James C. Lendemer, Ph.D., is an Assistant Curator in the Institute of Systematic Botany at The New York Botanical Garden. Lichens are their primary research interest.
The Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain is a close neighbor to some of America’s largest cities, including New York and Philadelphia, but you’d be forgiven if you had never heard of it. This vast, low-lying region extends along the Atlantic coast from southern New Jersey through South Carolina and includes such well-known cities as Charleston and Norfolk and beaches that are enjoyed by millions of visitors every year, such as the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
James C. Lendemer, Ph.D., is an Assistant Curator in the Institute of Systematic Botany at The New York Botanical Garden. Lichens, which include a fungal component, are his primary research interest.
Lichens, like other fungi, are poorly represented in conservation efforts in the United States and Canada as well as most other countries outside of Europe. At the beginning of 2015, only two lichens were protected under the US Endangered Species Act, 16 were protected under similar legislation in Canada, and two were listed internationally on the Red List of threatened species, which is maintained by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). At the state level, slightly higher numbers of lichens and other fungi are protected, although coverage is highly variable and no state has a comprehensive assessment of all the lichens within its borders.
The lack of protections for lichens is not, however, due to a lack of knowledge about the threats species face and the declines they have already suffered. Instead, there is a tremendous wealth of information stored in museums and in decades of firsthand knowledge held in the minds of American and Canadian lichenologists.
Jessica L. Allen is a graduate student in the Commodore Matthew Perry Graduate Studies Program, and James C. Lendemer, Ph.D., is an Assistant Curator at the Institute of Systematic Botany, both at The New York Botanical Garden. Lichens, which include a fungal component, are their primary research interest.
Every day, thousands of fungal species throughout the United States perform essential jobs all around us for free. They are vast networks, above and below ground, that facilitate nutrient transportation, form soil, provide natural fertilizers, and add delightful variety to our diets. If fungi went on strike, everybody would notice.
In the United States approximately 10 percent of fish and mammals are protected by the Endangered Species Act, including such American icons as the bald eagle and the American paddlefish. Yet fungi, which constitute an entire kingdom in the scientific classification of species, are effectively excluded from the dialogue. Of the nearly 40,000 known fungal species in North America, only two are protected by the Endangered Species Act!
Is it because we know so little Are there no threats to fungi? Are fungi immune to the threats posed to plants and animals? As is outlined in a recent issue of Endangered Species Research, the answer to all of these questions is a definite “No.”
In this video, two lichenologists sit down to talk about—what else?—lichens. Or rather, a new book about lichens from the NYBG Press, Common Lichens of Northeastern North America.
This field guide “was written for the average person to learn about lichens,” co-author Troy McMullin, Ph.D., tells James Lendemer, Ph.D., Assistant Curator in the Institute of Systematic Botany at The New York Botanical Garden. “It was written in non-technical language,” he adds, noting that the book is richly illustrated with photos of all the lichen species covered in the text.
Lichens, composite organisms made up of a fungus and an alga or other photosynthesizing partner, play important roles in ecosystems and are sensitive indicators of environmental quality. And they can be quite beautiful. They have not gotten the respect or attention they deserve, according to Dr. McMullin, and one sign of that neglect is the fact that Common Lichens is the first book of its kind for lichens.
“There hasn’t been a field guide like this,” Dr. McMullin says. “If you wanted a field guide to the birds, you go to a bookstore and there’s all kinds of them, and there’s ones for mushrooms, for trees and insects, but you never see any for lichens.”
Until now. To order Common Lichens of Northeastern North America, ($39, spiral-bound hardcover), go to the NYBG Press or order from Shop in the Garden.
Jessica L. Allen is a graduate student in the Commodore Mathew Perry Graduate Studies Program, and James C. Lendemer, Ph.D., is an Assistant Curator at the Institute of Systematic Botany, both at The New York Botanical Garden. Lichens are their primary research interest.
Atop Hangover Mountain in the Unicoi Mountains along the North Carolina-Tennessee border, we recently discovered a population of lichens that were in fruit and were excited to realize that they were a new species. Another native gem had been added to the flora of North America.
But what to name the new species? As we contemplated that question, we sat down to eat our lunch and take in the sweeping views of the nearby Smokies.
When most people think of native plants and animals, images of familiar flowers and songbirds probably come to mind. But largely overlooked are the thousands of lichen species that make their homes in our own backyards. Lichens are fungi that have evolved unique relationships with algae for the purpose of obtaining nutrition.
Indeed fungi that have adopted this lifestyle play crucial roles in keeping our natural landscapes healthy. They also form spectacular growths on trees, rocks and soil from the highest mountains to the lowest and harshest deserts. Scientists at The New York Botanical Garden have discovered new species of lichens throughout eastern North America steadily over the last 50 years, with no end in sight.
Jessica L. Allen is a graduate student at the Commodore Mathew Perry Graduate Studies Program, and James C. Lendemer, Ph.D., is an Assistant Curator at the Institute of Systematic Botany, both at The New York Botanical Garden. Lichens are their primary research interest.
Most trees and rocks in New York City look naked, while trees in wilder parts of the United States wear a vibrant, colorful coat. What causes that? It’s because after centuries of changes to the environment, many lichens have been pushed from our urban or suburban landscapes and into the wilderness.
Lichens are fungi that, in addition to forming beautiful mosaics on trees and rocks, are critical to maintaining healthy environments. Unfortunately they are also extremely sensitive to air pollution and disturbance. That is why if you grew up in New York, and many other cities, you might think that bare trees and rocks are normal.
The good news is that, like the oysters that are slowly returning to New York harbor, there are more lichens in New York City now than there were 30 years ago. Yet there are still hundreds of species that were once found in the metropolitan area and are no longer here. We decided to investigate whether or not more lichens could survive in the city if we just gave them a little help getting here.
You’ll find them clinging to rock faces like flecks of gray paint, or carpeting a tree trunk with skeins of red whisps. Lichens come in myriad shapes, sizes, colors, and consistencies. But while they’re often overlooked during your average hike, they’re worth giving a spare glance the next time you’re outdoors–lichens play an important part in the ecosystem. Few know this so well as the NYBG‘s Dr. James Lendemer. Like many of the Garden’s globetrotting scientists–Michael Balick, Bill Buck, and Roy Halling, to name a few–Lendemer’s field odysseys carry him well beyond the laboratory door in his hunt for specimens. In recent years, that chalks up to long days spent trekking through the Great Smoky Mountains of the eastern United States.
For the uninitiated, lichens are cryptogams–fungi that reproduce by spores, as with other fungi and some groups of plants. But unlike either, lichens are unique in that they’re composite organisms, often a symbiotic combination of fungi and algae. Think of them as codependent roommates; the former acts as a sort of bodyguard for the latter in exchange for nourishing sugars from the algae’s photosynthesis. At large, lichens make the perfect bird nests by some avian standards, and the growths also have a penchant for breaking down dead trees and rocks while providing nitrogen for soil. Unassuming as they are, they’re integral to maintaining healthy biomes.