Published: March 4, 2015

Lichens as bioindicators of forest health

Robert Luecking, Research Associate, Gantz Family Collections Center
A selection of charismatic Lobariaceae lichens in New Zealand

Going green is all about conserving the environment. Not just because a healthy environment increases our quality of living, but because we owe it to the next generations to conserve our planet so they have a chance to enjoy its spectacular beauty and diversity as we do. Since forests are one of the primary sources of oxigen, conservation of forests is of great importance both in temperate and tropical areas. In many regions, forests are monitored as to their conservation status, and bioindicators are an important tool to accomplish this task. Certain lichens are excellent bioindicators of forest health, among them especially the charismatic macrolichens of the family Lobariaceae, which includes the lung lichen, Lobaria pulmonaria.

Field Museum Adjunct Curator Robert Lücking and Research Associate Bibiana Moncada recently spent two weeks in New Zealand to study Lobariaceae lichens in this island country down under, assisted by legendary resident biologist Peter de Lange. The goal is to provide a protocol to use this very diverse group of lichens for monitoring New Zealand forests, which are under threat from logging activities and invasive species. Since these macrolichens can be easily surveyed, such a protocol provides a fast tool to assess large areas of forest and many forest plots in short time.

The pictures show a selection of charismatic Lobariaceae from New Zealand, many of them endemic to this region: Pseudocyphellaria homoeophylla, Crocodia poculifera, P. hookeri, Sticta filix, P. crocata, P. haywardiorum, P. gretae, S. fuliginosa, Yarrumia coronata, S. latifrons, P. dissimilis, and P. billardierii.

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.