lichen

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[i]Caloplaca maculata[/i] - the only lichen known to be endemic to the Chatham Islands seen here growing on hard tuff. Image: Peter de Lange/DOC

Chatham Island lichens

Lichens are by definition any fungus and alga (or a cyanobacterium – oft known as blue green alga) living in symbiotic association. This overly simplistic description serves to explain away a vast amount of New Zealand’s biodiversity. There is an estimated 2000 different kinds of lichen in New Zealand of which formal descriptions exist for no less than 1706! As a rule most people ignore lichens, often mistakenly confusing them with the very different mosses and liverworts “as just lichens”. This is unfortunate, and increasingly we are beginning to appreciate that we do this at our peril. Lichens are proving to be the botanical equivalent of the canary in the cage, often providing the first warning signs of deteriorating air quality, pollution and temperature changes. Lichens too are proving useful in dating geological phenomena such as landslides and earthquakes, and lichens are major nitrogen fixers, contributing for example, 10 kg N per ha per year in the average New Zealand temperate rainforest ecosystem.