Lichens are fungi with a unique symbiotic lifestyle involving algae and cyanobacteria. Although lichens are critical to maintaining healthy ecosystems on land, they remain chronically understudied. This project centers on an inventory of lichens in low-lying ecosystems along the Mid-Atlantic Coast of the United States, a region that hosts tremendous biological diversity but has also been greatly altered by more than four centuries of human changes to the environment. The remaining natural habitats in area are now imperiled by further encroachment from development, degradation from diverse factors such as pollution, and climate change particularly sea-level rise. Through three years of intensive field expeditions from New Jersey south to Florida, this project assembled the first assessment of lichen biodiversity for this important but threatened area. Numerous new species were discovered, many of which are nearly restricted to a previously unknown biodiversity hotspot in coastal North Carolina. The results of this work have greatly increased knowledge and awareness of lichens and their importance in the region.
Related project: Lichen Conservation Biology