Floristics and Implications for Biodiversity Conservation

A joint project of The New York Botanical Garden and The Nature Conservancy
by Richard C. Harris and Douglas M. Ladd.

Lichens are critical components of many terrestrial ecosystems yet they remain largely understudied. There are immense gaps in our knowledge regarding lichen taxonomy, ecology, and biogeography, and these gaps impede efforts to devise and implement unified strategies for sustainable biodiversity conservation. In North America, the only comprehensive regional treatments of lichens are outdated and cover areas in the glaciated regions of the northern United States and Canada. It has been estimated that 10-20% of the North American lichen biota is currently undescribed.

This proposal seeks funding to complete a comprehensive treatment of the lichens of the Ozark Highlands of central North America, a physically and biologically unique region known to be a center of biological richness and temperate endemism for diverse organismal groups. Because it is known to be a region of critical importance from a conservation perspective, and includes the largest contiguous woodland remaining in the midcontinent, the Ozarks are the subject of increasing conservation interest and activity. Organizations such as The Nature Conservancy are working to design and implement integrated strategies aimed at sustainable conservation of the region's unique biodiversity. In order to efficiently and effectively accomplish this goal, there is a need for accurate, detailed information for all groups of organisms. This information is especially critical for lichens, given the potential global conservation significance of many Ozark lichens, the predominance of lichens in many Ozark vegetation types, such as glades, and the potential for lichens to be effective for ecological monitoring and assessment. The results of the proposed work will be directly relevant to ongoing conservation planning and implementation, and will serve to increase the effectiveness of conservation efforts by multiple agencies and organizations.

Building on initial work completed during the past 15 years, we will produce a comprehensive account of the taxonomy, descriptive ecology, floristics, and distribution of the region's lichen biota. This will result in several products, including 1) the first large scale set of lichen specimens from the region, 2) publications of numerous new lichen species, 3) a book that will make accessible for the first time information on midcontinental lichens, 4) a multifaceted web site providing keys and illustrations 5) a searchable, GIS-linked database of the major holdings of Ozark lichen collections housed at NY, UMO, MIN and MOR along with other linked information, 6) an educational workshop, and 7) updated proposals for rare and endangered lichens within Missouri and Arkansas for use by conservation agencies, both private and governmental, within the region.

To date, we have a checklist of the species found in the Ozarks, a preliminary list of the seemingly undescribed species, a sample treatment of Bacidia, and a sample treatment of Protoblastenia