Heterotrophs are organisms that must obtain their nourishment from other organisms. Hetero in Greek means “other” trophe means “nourishment.”
The lichen symbiosis is composed of a fungus (the heterotroph) and an algae and/or cyanobacteria (the autotroph). In the lichen, the autotroph absorbs photons from the sun and stores this energy in the chemical bonds of molecules.
In turn the fungus, the heterotroph, takes those molecules and uses the stored solar energy to form more molecules, creating a dizzying array of pigments, chemicals, and proteins.
We’re all like lichens – our right brain comes up with novel ideas inspired by the muses, imagination, the spark. And our left brain works with those ideas, building, transforming. Together, they create.
Lichens are speakers of the stones, speakers of the forests, speakers of the desert soils.
If you’ve always wanted to learn how to read a landscape, lichens are like words on a page – their patterns of diversity can tell you about climate, including nearly invisible microclimates, air quality, habitat connectivity, continuity
of habitat at time scales that go upwards of 1,000 years.
As for me, my lichenological research has been stimulated by the potential of using lichens as biomonitors of climate change, air quality, and habitat condition. My studies have included lichen inventories on the ecotone between the
Mojave and Great Basin Desert, as well as investigating how the Western North American alpine flora has changed over the past 60 years.
In the 1950s, lichenologist Henry .A. Imshaug (1925-2010) inventoried lichens at 91 alpine peaks across Western North America. But no one has gone back up to see if those alpine lichens have responded to climate change.
Have alpine species disappeared from some areas – have others shifted ranges into new locations? Can we untangle the impacts of air pollution from climate change? Can lichens be used as effective bioindicators of climate change in
Answering these questions is our goal. My partner Jason Hollinger and I have re-inventoried 12 of Imshaug’s original alpine sites in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California and western Nevada, along with two in the Washington Cascades,
and one in the Intermountain Region. The project has proven to be bigger than we initially anticipated, so we are taking a more modular approach by focusing our efforts first on the California alpine. The California portion of this
project was proudly supported by the California Lichen Society. Check out CALS
If you are looking to learn alpine lichens, Jason and I made a little
Illustrated Guide to Alpine Lichens in the High Sierras, most alpine lichens have a circumpolar distribution, so even if you’re not in California, there’s a good chance there’s at least a little overlap with your alpine area.
Publications from the project:
Carter, O., B. Kropp, N. Noell, J. Hollinger, G. Baker, A. Tuttle, L. St. Clair and S.D. Leavitt. (2019) “
A preliminary checklist of the lichens in Great Basin National Park, Nevada, USA.” Evansia, 36:2.
N. Noell and J. Hollinger. (2019) “Following in the footsteps of Henry Imshaug: Preliminary notes on California alpine lichens.” Bulletin of the California Lichen Society
Noell, N. and J. Hollinger. (2015) “
Alpine Lichens and Climate Change on Wheeler Peak.” The Midden: The Resource Management Newsletter of Great Basin National Park, 15:1.
Great Basin Lichens
I thought there would be no landscape that could yoke me like the alpine does. That was before moving to Nevada in 2014 with Jason, to try to fill in a gaping hole in North American lichenology: The Great Basin Desert.
The following year, in an unexpected synchronicity, a forward thinking wildlife ecologist at the Nevada Bureau of Land Management got a grant for a three year studying investigating the lichens on the ecotone of the Great Basin Desert
and the Mojave Desert. He needed a lichenologist. He got two.
Our preliminary findings are more than remarkable. They are love. And they continue to unfold. So many species to describe. So little time. And playa lichens, yes, a novel community of halophilic lichens that flourish in the ancient
lake beds of salt.
Publications from this project:
Hollinger, J. and N. Noell. (2020) “
New Reports of Great Basin Desert Lichens in California.” Bulletin of the California Lichen Society,
N. Noell and J. Hollinger. (2019) ”
The Lichen Flora of the Caliente Field Office Lincoln County, Nevada.” Report to the Nevada Bureau of Management, 144 pages.