Alpine Lichens and Climate Change

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 alpine regions?

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. Preliminary results for California are currently in press, look for the upcoming Spring/Summer 2019 California Lichen Society Bulletin.

This project is proudly supported by the California Lichen Society. Check out CALS here!

Recent Alpine Lichens Posts:

Lichen Yoga in the California Alpine: Yoking the creative and scientific parts of self

Lichen taxonomy is really exciting to some people. And I'll be honest, I'm not one of them. I prefer the meta-stories -- ones about how land and climate barriers have propelled speciation into many divergent paths, how species assemblages shift along different environmental gradients, and ways in which the lichen symbiosis can inform a more balanced way of living in the world. A little story is being suggested here: check out the line of yellow lichens on the lower level of the boulders. This and the surrounding soil suggests that water collects here during spring snowmelt, and that the level ...

Common Alpine Lichens of the High Sierras – California

What are the common alpine lichens found in the High Sierras of California? This handy six page guide just might answer that question. Jason and I made it for naturalists, alpine enthusiasts, and citizen scientists, with the hope that it will be helpful in field identification of common alpine lichen species or species groups. Rarity is indicated, so if anyone observes any of these rare lichens on a summit in the High Sierras, we encourage you to take a photo, a GPS location with elevation, and email us. The guide is gleaned from 924 records of lichens found at four ...

Alpine Lichens – Mt Whitney: Part 2

Part 1 covered the hike, but we didn't touch at all upon the lichens on Mt. Whitney! So let's do that here. Firstly, you might be wondering - what's the history of lichen collections of Mt. Whitney? Two words: its limited. Here's the stats: Date                      Collector(s)                                   taxa  specimens 15 Aug 1904          J.D. Culbertson & C.F. Baker          5     8 1959?                     R.H. Torrey             ...

Alpine Lichens – Mt Whitney: Part 1

Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the conterminous U.S., looms over the Owens Valley, once a thriving agricultural area, now increasingly arid as its the major supplier of the Los Angeles water supply. It's a striking landscape characteristic of the High Sierras, and the lichens on the summit were different than those we've found on other peaks in the region, underscoring how unique these high elevation sites are for regional biota. I'll get into the lichens in Part 2 of this post, but for the moment I'd like to share more about the hike itself. The Mt. Whitney portal trail ...

Alpine Lichens: Bishop Pass, Sequoia – Kings Canyon N.P., California

Bishop Pass is one of the more species-rich alpine locations in California that Imshaug collected in during his 1955 surveys. Despite the lack of well-developed soil, he found a number of soil crust lichens (terricolous lichens), along with dozens of rock lichens (saxicolous lichens). So we tasked ourselves with the same, and found all the species that Imshaug originally found. The only trouble was: pretty horrible altitude sickness. Its unfortunately usual for Jason, so we've been slowly acclimatizing ourselves with training hikes, etc. But usually I'm just fine. And I got it bad that night below Bishop Pass. The comforting ...

Mt. Tiffany, North Cascades, Washington

Giant fires raged last year when Jason and I attempted to survey two alpine lichen locations in Washington: Mt. Pugh (Glacier Peak Wilderness) and Mt. Tiffany (Okanogan National Forest); the 2015 fires shut down many of the towns in the Eastern Cascades, and flames were jumping over regional Hwy 2, blocking our access to the Mt. Tiffany. Luckily we were still able to survey Mt. Pugh, and we saved Mt. Tiffany for this year. And it was well worth the wait! ...

Lassen Peak

Last week I spent some time going through specimens from Lassen Peak in Lassen National Park, Northern California. But that makes less than exciting reading, so instead, lets take a peek at a few pretty photos from that field day ...