Published: March 4, 2015

How lichens reproduce with "greenhorn" baby lichens...

Robert Luecking, Research Associate, Gantz Family Collections Center
A selection of lichens with "baby" lichens (tiny phyllidia and lobules destined to form new lichen individuals)

As a symbiosis between a fungus and a photosynthetic alga or cyanobacterium, lichens have particular challenges when it comes to reproduction and growing fully mature lichens out of tiny baby lichens. Many lichens have mastered this challenge by producing small thallus portions that already look like tiny lichens and, once dispersed, immediately start growing and forming a fully functional lichen. These tiny "greenhorn" lichens growing on their parent lichen are called phyllidia or lobules, due to their flattened appearance that resembles the lobes of mature lichens, only much smaller. Lichens can produce hundreds, if not thousands of these "baby" lichens, but only very few survive in nature.

Here is a selection of examples of such "greenhorn" lichens, that is, lichens with tiny phyllidia or lobules growing on parent lichens, ready to be dispersed and begin a new life as separate individual: Pseudocyphellaria multifida, P. glabra, P. dissimilis, and Sticta filix.

Robert Luecking

As former Collections Manager (2003-2015), I was responsible for the over 230,000 collections of fungi and lichens held at the Field Museum. As former Adjunct Curator (2001-2015) and now Research Associate, my research focuses on the taxonomy and systematics, phylogeny and evolution, ecology and biogeography, and applications of tropical lichens, mainly in the large families Gomphillaceae, Graphidaceae, Hygrophoraceae, Pilocarpaceae, Porinaceae, Pyrenulaceae, and Pilocarpaceae, which together contain nearly 3000 species. I am also familiar with lichens that grow on living leaves of vascular plants (foliicolous lichens). I am further interested in methodology, such as multivariate analysis in community ecology and phylogenetic methods. This including practical solutions to problems such as re-coding ambiguous regions in multiple fixed alignments of large datasets and their analysis under maximum likelihood, the assessment of homoplasy prior to tree building, and the phylogenetic placement of taxa for which no DNA data are available. I am a dedicated photographer focusing on nature and macrophotography.