A highlight from Lichens With Jessica Allen -A Way to Garden With Margaret Roach-November 29, 2021
Those two organisms. But there's We a lot can more really think going of on likens in there as than just miniature those ecosystems two organisms. in and of themselves as well. We can really think of likens as miniature ecosystems in and of themselves as well. So in addition to the fungi, the algae, there are other fungi in there. There are tons of bacteria, there are tardigrades, which are water bears and nematodes, these tiny worms, and so really it's kind of a microcosm in and of itself. study to become a botanist a plant biologist why at one point did you not say, oh, this genus of plants or these trees or how did it like and capture your heart? Yeah, that's a great question. It actually started when I was taking introductory biology and we went through for the whole year. We went through all of these chapters in this book, and we talked about all of these different organisms and molecular processes. And then the only chapter that we skipped was the one on fungi. So I went back and read it and I said, these are the coolest organisms and I was lucky enough to be at a university where we actually had a whole quarter while in class on mycology and the professor was wonderful. And I really fell in love with fungi. I think they're fascinating. They are a bit cryptic. So there's a lot of mystery there. There's a lot that we don't understand about them still. And then of all the fungi, I found likens the most beautiful. And I really just fell in love. And so throughout my education and also my research, I've worked on plans. I've studied plants, but really my heart has always been with the lichens. Interesting. I didn't know that that's how it came about. And I think that when I spoke to you in James londoner, your longtime colleague for The New York Times article, you both explained to me that fungi are really overlooked in conservation as well, aren't they? You were just telling a story about how you discovered them and they were almost overlooked in the literature, so to speak, but they're not really recognized in conservation efforts as widely as they should be, are they? Absolutely. For a long time, they've really just been completely excluded from our typical conservation efforts, which tend to focus on larger animals and plants on vascular plants, especially and we can see this when we endangered species act, there are thousands of plants and animals protected by the ESA, but there are only two fungi. Both lichens and they both occur in the southeastern United States. So that's The Rock known lichen and the perforate cladonia lichen in Florida. And there has been some recent actually some really recent positive news on this front, though. Likens and other fungi are gaining a lot of global attention and conservation. The first international fungal conservation organization just formed the fungal conservation committee as part of the international union for the conservation of nature. The IUCN has really been embracing fungi in their documents recently. We have this flora fungi fauna movement going on this is the third of three F's movement, which is really been led by giuliana forci, who's an incredible fungal conservationist. And so there is a movement in this direction. I think we're really seeing some positive outcomes for fungal conservation globally. So in the case of lichens, people might say, well, but it just looks like a piece of chewing gum, the felony ground or a log or some splat of paint on a rock or whatever. So why should I care about those? So what's their role in the bigger picture environmentally and so forth? Where do they doing? Yeah, so likens perform tons of different ecosystem services, they interact with a lot of animals. So many animals eat lichens even large mammals, so like Caribou, eat a lot of lichens. They really fundamentally rely on lichens as one of their major food sources. But even animals like deer and moose use lichens, especially as a winter forage, many birds use them as nesting materials as do smaller mammals, like flying squirrels, both nests as nesting materials and as food. And then if we continue to sort of scale down many invertebrates, use them as camouflage and again as a food source. And then if we sort of scale up to the ecosystem level processes, you know, they're fixing carbon from the air, right? And they're also fixing nitrogen. And they can be in many systems, a really one of the most important nitrogen inputs to the soil in some forested systems. So both on this really large scale of the movement of elements sort of through our through these systems globally and on these smaller scales and these really in all of these interactions with animals. And I know when we did the story together, we talked about, here it was garden clean up time when we were speaking and you know people are raking and they're finding maybe a branch twig with like an on it and you know, but it's not junk. It's as you called it a little packet of fertilizer of potential fertilizer, right?