These pages contain information on lichens, intended for an amateur naturalist with interest in lichens. In addition to a general introduction to the study and identification of lichens, the main objective is a guided walk around the campus of Lakehead university, with stops at interesting trees and sites at which lichens are abundant.
As a novice being introduced to these interesting organisms, plentiful in our Northern environment, I was (and still am) frustrated by the complexity emanating from their “modular” nature, partnership of at least two partners – fungus and an alga (more on this later). Professional lichenologists have decided some 50 years ago that since the main form of the organism and the sexual reproductive structures (apothecia) are of fungal origin, these organisms are to be classified as fungi.
So, what do we call these “things”? The practical field naturalist or even professional ecologist needs to give a quick and reliable name to an organism. Professional lichen taxonomist makes a living by finding subtle and presumably evolutionarily important differences between similar organisms, splitting off ever more subtly differentiated species. The use of chemical tests (and more recently DNA sequences) to identify lichen species is decidedly “user unfriendly”. The attitude I take here is that an amateur lichenologist should be happy with identifying “local” genera, based on the likelihood of occurrence in our region. The rare, unusual, uncommon and bizarre can be left to the professionals.
In this regard, go out and enjoy, but please, don’t collect the lichens unless you become so proficient that you can collaborate with a lichenologist. Just take pictures, observe, and if really interested take notes to share with a professional. Collecting can be done later, particularly if your camera records detailed GPS location of your intriguing find.
Claude Garton (LKHD) herbarium