Learning about Lichens

Lichen with handlense

Emily Dodd, a student from the University of Cumbria, joined a two-day course at Mungrisdale Village Hall and Eycott Hill Nature Reserve to learn all about lichens…

Lichens… What exactly are they?

Lichens are not single organisms. They are in fact a combination of two or three separate organisms that are associated by a symbiotic relationship – a fungus and either an alga, or cyanobacterium (and possibly a yeast). Whilst the independent species (both fungi and algae) may not survive alone, together, they thrive in a mutualistic relationship within large communities. This means that they can survive in habitats that would otherwise be unsuitable, such as wet, humid, or exposed environments.

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Man in hat using hand lens to study lichen on twig

Studying lichen at Eycott Hill Nature Reserve

There are roughly 1900 species of lichen in the UK, 900 of which are relatively common in their specific habitats. As Stuart from Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre said, “lichens are a hideously difficult group to get your head around”, but that doesn’t stop you from trying!

Group of people studying lichen on rock at Eycott Hill Nature Reserve

To help get to grips with this perplexing subject, the two-day course covered an array of topics, from structure and reproduction, to identification and recording - but it might take a little more studying to become a fully-fledged lichenologist!

After a morning of education, the group made the most of the sunshine by travelling to Eycott Hill Nature Reserve on the first day of the course. Everyone kept their eyes peeled to identify the various structures that they learnt about earlier in the day – the ascocarp (fruiting bodies of lichen) were probably the most notable.

Couple taking a closer look at lichen on rock at Eycott Hill Nature Reserve

Taking a closer look at lichen © Guy Broom

It was a little tricky to identify each species, but the group were able to figure out the genus by analysing the various growth forms – leprose, foliose, and fruticose lichen were relatively common at Eycott Hill Nature Reserve. A twig was found with four different species of lichen growing on it, and even a few Cladonia species sprouted from the crevices of the drystone walls.

The group was lucky to discover the following on Eycott Hill:

Rhizocarpon geographicum Evernia prunastri Caloplaca sp.
Ramalina fastigiata Parmelia saxatilis and/ or Parmelia sulcata Lecanora sp.
Stereocaulon vesuvianum Xanthoria parietina Lepraria sp.
Ramalina farinacea Possibly Hypogymnia tubulosa Cladonia sp.

On the second day, Stuart Colgate began a somewhat mind-boggling biology session to discuss lichen reproduction – a nostalgic experience that brought the group back to their old school days! Although complex at first, Stuart gave all of the necessary information in bitesize chunks, with plenty of photos and diagrams to help understand.

Once everyone’s brains were full, the group ventured outdoors to search for lichens nearby. It’s always good to put knowledge to practise, so it was great for people to get a hands-on experience outside. There was a surprising range of lichens, including Cladonia arbuscular and Usnea species surrounding Mungrisdale Village Hall.

There are a handful of books and guides out there to assist you with your lichen learning, so why not start today?

For a simple, straightforward way to record data accurately and efficiently, visit http://www.cbdc.org.uk/recording-wildlife/

To input data from Eycott Hill Nature Reserve, you can visit https://www.brc.ac.uk/irecord/join/eycott-hill-nature-reserve-records - but please don’t send your records more than once, or to more than one place.

Emily Dodd (volunteer)

National Lottery Heritage Fund

 

Work at Eycott Hill Nature Reserve is possible thanks to National Lottery Players, and support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.