Lichen Inventory

Two researchers peer into rocks looking at lichen.
Documenting lichens near Mirror Lake, Katmai National Park & Preserve.

NPS/James Walton

Parklands in southwest Alaska are renowned for their glacier-clad peaks, active volcanic terrain, premier wildlife viewing, and high-value salmon runs all woven together in a wilderness mosaic of lakes, rivers, mountains, forests, and tundra. Yet as one draws their eyes from this vibrant landscape, casts them downward to the branches and trunks of the spruce and shrubs, to the rocks, and to the ground itself, this closer look reveals a Lilliputian world all its own. This is the realm of lichens.

In addition to lichens being inherently beautiful and fascinating in their own right - they add diversity, interest, color, and intricacy to the landscape--lichens are also recognized as a significant component of biological diversity and as sensitive indicators of air quality and climate. Despite their aesthetic and ecological importance, there remains a general lack of information regarding lichen occurrence, due in part to their small size, their often microscopic or chemical distinguishing features, and their enormous diversity.

To address the information gap on lichens in southwest Alaska parklands, the Southwest Alaska Network partnered with Oregon State University (OSU) to conduct a lichen inventory of its three largest parks: Katmai National Park and Preserve, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, and Kenai Fjords National Park. A team of lichenologists from North America and Europe conducted surveys throughout each park that were selected by our botanists to span a range of rich lichen habitats, including coastal rock outcrops and forests; large interior lake, river and forest systems; and interior and coastal alpine zones.

pink lichens from LACL
The colorful pink earth lichen (Dibaeis baeomyces) near Turquoise Lake, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.

NPS/James Walton

Collaborators have recently published a paper in the journal Mycosphere that presents detailed findings from Katmai and Lake Clark national parks and preserves. The authors report a combined total of 896 taxa for both parks, adding 889 taxa to the total of seven taxa previously reported. This list includes ten species new to science, which were recently published elsewhere. An additional 15 lichenicolous fungi (fungi growing on lichens), and seven fungi associated with young living twigs of particular host species are also reported. Seventeen species are new to Alaska, and six species are new to North America (Caloplaca fuscorufa, Lecanora leucococca s.l., Ochrolechia brodoi, Protoparmelia memnonia, Rhizocarpon leptolepis, and Rhizocarpon sinense). Four new species combinations (i.e., updated species names) are presented, Cetraria minuscula, Enchylium millegranum var. bachmanianum, Lathagrium undulatum var. granulosum, and Protomicarea alpestris. New populations of the globally endangered boreal felt lichen, Erioderma pedicillatum, were also discovered in both parks. Of the 64 lichen species currently listed as “rare” by the Alaska Center for Conservation Science, 30% (19) were discovered in the two parks. Of these, 15 were found in Katmai and 16 in Lake Clark.

The rich assemblage of lichen species encountered during the inventory reflects an interesting biogeographic convergence, with a blend of oceanic species typical of the Pacific Northwest, Arctic and boreal species that occur across the continent, and potentially a Beringian element. Nitrophilous (nitrogen-loving) species (e.g., Caloplaca, Xanthoria) did not appear to be abundant in either park, suggesting low levels of nitrogenous pollutants. Additionally, few calciphiles, or species showing an affinity for calcium-rich substrates, were encountered, owing to the predominantly acidic rocks in both parks.

To date, fourteen peer-reviewed journal articles and one master's thesis have been published using inventory findings. A manuscript detailing findings from the Kenai Fjords lichen inventory work will be presented soon. Results from these inventories will provide baseline data on lichen occurrence that may be used in resource condition assessments, vulnerability assessments, long-term ecological monitoring, and resource management. Specimens collected during the course of the inventory will be provided on loan to the Museum of the North Herbarium, University of Alaska, and several other institutions, where they will be available for research and educational purposes.

Journal articles

Last updated: September 24, 2018