forest ecology

Lichens and Volcanoes

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Lava erupts from a fissure east of the Leilani Estates subdivision during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano
Huffington Post image of Kilauea’s lava flow 

The past several months watching Kilauea’s changes as she wakes up has been fascinating. I have friends who have a home in this area, so there is a personal interest in what is happening there. As we adjust to the losses and changes for the humans, we are also respectful of Pele’s part in creating the lovely land we know as Hawaii. She knows what she is doing, and over time the foundation she lays for all other life will again support the abundance we are familiar with. After Pele cools off, what happens? For an entertaining account of the volcanic process, read Krakatoa by Simon Winchester

As the lava cools, the new earth is immediately colonized by bacteria that comes floating in on air currents. Also carried by the air are tiny seeds, bits of soil from other places, and…….lichens! Lichens are the first life to colonize the new earth, beginning to add organic matter to the surface as they grow and die, and they also begin their work of moderating the surface temperature and moisture content. They provide shelter for the first insects, who also blow in on the wind, or crawl from adjacent areas. Then the birds and lizards come to eat the insects and lichens, and then the tiny mammals, snakes, and gradually the forest reappears.

Usnea sp.-Canopy BV 3-17 Celestron
Usnea sp from canopy in Kickapoo Valley Reserve

Mt. St. Helens in Oregon, has changed dramatically after the eruption 35 years ago. This mountain was covered more in ash than lava, so many of the plants reappeared from under the ash; life did not have to restart from the tiniest bacteria and lichen spores.

Crustose lichens on rock in Columbia River valley, British Columbia
Crustose lichens on rock in Columbia River valley, British Columbia

Where there is any live topsoil nearby an area such as an industrial site or monocultured agriculture land, where no life has been for some time, the lichens are not always the first to live in those barren places. Seeds already are present, if not in the exposed earth they are nearby, and easily move into a barren area. But the lichens do appear on soil very soon, and when any trees have been growing for a few years, the lichens begin to appear.

The Hawaiian volcano process is a rapid “movie” of how life begins on new earth. Variations of that process occur everywhere, but are less easily observed. Check on science websites or local Hawaiian park sites or private blogs, USGS info, for news on how the land and life changes on the newly formed land.

Happy Lichen hunting!

 

Birds, Flowers, Frogs, Bats…..Lichens!

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Lecanora thysanophora +HO trail 6-17
Aren’t the colors amazing?

It’s summer! We are in the season of Frog Walks, night time Bat Surveys, Birding Events, star gazing nights and more. The extravagant displays of color and sound, the always changing feast for the eyes is at it’s best in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve.

Many of us review our familiarity with birds and plants we consider old friends, as they reappear each spring and summer. What have you learned recently, that is completely new, about the ecosystem you are part of? Now that you know at least some of the birds, flowers, trees, bats, mammals and even fungi and insects, what else could be here?

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Lots of pretty but hard to identify crustose lichens on a rock

Learning about lichens and their relatives in the fungi world is a good place to start because most of us have not thought much about these neighbors. An essential part of the natural world as we know it is made up of fungi and LICHENS. Lichens influence and in some ways may control the environment. Lichens are everywhere- rock, tree surfaces, and on the ground. Lichens are at least as diverse as any other group of organisms. Lichens are present every day of the year. Lichens may be enjoyed as you canoe down the river, walk on a trail, or sit under a tree watching birds. Lichens are colorful, beautiful, endlessly varied and so easy to get close to.

Take some time to read this website’s information, look at the lichen books at the KVR while you relax in the Visitor Center, and go for a lichen hike with a friend, or give me a call and we’ll go visit Lichen Land to see who’s there this time of year.

Join the KVR Lichen Project this year. Learn about lichens; the world of nature that you think you know will expand dramatically. Becoming familiar with lichens opens a doorway to the ‘web of life’ that all are part of. We mostly see individual parts; the bird, the tree, the river….but none of those are what they are without all the others they relate  to aand interact with. Lichens are quintessential collaborators, cooperators, adaptors. Many of the other residents you are familiar with are dependent on lichens to some degree. What can we learn about those relationships?

While the lichens moderates the climate for the tree it lives on, the tree moderates the climate for the earth under it and all that live there, and  moderates the air space it occupies, affecting all the air interacts with, on so on the web spreads. How many more relationships like this surround us? What happens when those interactive webs are changed or destroyed? What can we do to steward the health and survival of webs of life we do not understand well? How can we learn to see these connections better, to foster our understanding of what is going on around us?

Learning about lichens and becoming familiar with them as part of the beautiful world you interact with on your hikes and other activities in the green world is one way to enlarge your perspective and through that, your effectiveness in caring for both the KVR and the larger green world around us.

Lichens are a bit harder to find in the depths of summer greenery. Look on exposed rocks especially along the river. Lichens as well as mosses and liverworts abound on river cliffs. The lower parts of tree trunks are always easy to observe and have many lichen species growing on them. Notice the different lichens on different tree species. There are also some lichen species that seem to grow on many tree species. What could be the reason some grow almost everywhere and others are very particular about their location?

Wet weather wakes up lichens. Their colors are bright and they are actively photosynthesizing and reproducing. Take a picture, and compare it with the same lichen at another time of year, when conditions are dry. The lichen may be almost unrecognizable as the same one you saw on a wet day.

Enjoy the lichens wherever you find them this summer. Post a message here if you see any lichens you’d like to share!

BC 5A-DTtrunk Letharia vulpina 5.18b
Letharia vulpina on conifer in British Columbia

Party Time in Lichen Land!

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Lichen Land Forest

Here in Lichen Land, the tiny but vast community of lichens, bryophytes and fungi are having a party on the Wintergreen Trail. Cladonia and Peltigera, Stereocaulon and Candelariella, Xanthoparmelia and a small crowd of their crustose friends are sporting fancy apothecia (disc or cup that produces spores) in many shapes and colors. The place is decorated in the brightest colors-turquoise, jade green, yellow, white, black, gray, brown, rust, pale blue. A Cladonia first caught my eye; she was fringed and spangled with intricate weavings of pale green, crowned with a russet  apothecia/cap perched on her tall slender podetia (stalk). Many other Cladonias waved jade colored cups, some fringed and some smooth edged. The Peltigera rufescens, that not long ago sported velvety gray thallus and dramatic, hooded, vase-like apothecia, now were a bit faded in places. But some of them had grown dozens of tiny, white rhizines (root like structures) from the underside of the thallus (the vegetative part of a lichen that contains the photobiant and mycobiont.

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Peltigera sp. in October growing fresh rhizines.

All this elaborate activity goes on within one inch of the ground. A wrong step by a human would destroy many years of growth. But you can join the party; pack a 6x or 10x hand lens, your camera, and just walk into Lichen Site 4. They’ll all be there. Once you step down the two stone steps and turn right, slow down. Stop. Take out the hand lens. Breathe and relax. Even though it’s a party down there, we need to slow down to join up with the Tiny Ones.

Have you ever hunted for 4-leaf clovers? Use the same type of gaze and attitude; you’ll be more successful with lichens because there are so many of them, you can’t miss them. Once a few are seen on the pine needle covered ground you will start to see the stalk-like podetia everywhere. Get down close to them, use your hand lens held close to your eye, then move closer or farther from the lichen to focus, keeping the lens close to your eye.

At ground level the elaborate, fringed structures make a fairyland scene. A few weeks ago, the podetia were straight and smooth pointed stalks. Now they sport cups, caps and fringes. The thallus (the leafy part) may have rhizines, brighter color and also more elaborate shapes.  There are many very tiny lichen growing among the taller ones so be careful where you step! It truly is a forest in miniature, with a canopy, mid layer and ground layer of plants and animals.

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Cladonia sp.

There are several types and species of lichen sharing Cladonia’s forest. Peltigera sp. has been introduced earlier, but there are many more lichen here. On the edge of the narrow pathway, rocks with lichens barely discernible in the summer now are alive with color and texture. These are crustose lichens, and there are quite a few species here. Many

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Crustose lichen on rock with black apothecia
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Foliose lichen on rock

species of crustose lichen on the rocks at this site have produced apothecia. Look for dark spots in the light colored crustose lichen body. Most of the lichen on these rocks are white, gray, or blue-gray. There also are some black crustose lichen here. Look closely with your hand lens to check for apothecia on the black lichen; they are hard to see. How many different species of lichen can you find? These can be very hard to identify without a high powered microscope to see details, and chemicals to test certain reactions lichens may have. At this time, the Lichen Hunters are simply recognizing these are ‘crustose’ forms.

On the low, sandy cliff  (the cliff is 2-3 feet high) at the top of this area, the walls have been decorated in turquoise, green and white. The colors are bright and clear. In the shadows under the rocky overhang, the gauzy, lacy texture of lichen mixed with moss, spider webs and falling grains of sand make a confusing scene. What is lichen, and what is sand grains, or spider webs?

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Stereocaulon sp. (Rock Foam) on sandy cliff face

As the sunbeams illuminated strands of turquoise and green against the dark recesses it seemed to be an endless mass of tangled threads.  Much of the lichen here is probably a Stereocaulon sp. commonly called ‘Rock Foam’. There are several species, some of which, in the arctic, are food for caribou during famine.

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Turquoise foliose lichens on sandy cliff

Pixie Foam, a miniature Stereocaulon species, often grows where there is a high concentration of metals in the rock. Lichens are used all over the world to prospect for minerals by analyzing the mineral content of the lichen thallus. (From  ‘Lichens of the North Woods).

How many species of lichens can you sort out, under the sandy ledge? There are also mosses, ferns and fungi here. How many different life forms can you find, of any kind? This is a rich, active place, yet we know almost nothing about the lives here, or what their place in the world might be.

This visit to Lichen Land left me feeling as if I’d crashed a party. The last time I was here, the lichen were growing podetia  but were much smaller. Today I crossed the threshold of two stone steps into their world, and it had changed dramatically. Colors were brilliant, forms were elaborate; the lichens seemed more alive!  They didn’t seem like the same lichens I’d seen earlier. It was quiet, but I felt there was music and shouting and dancing going on, in a tiny way. It felt like a party.

As I walked away I thought about how the earth, rock, sand, and trees, each have a community of lichen. They are not plants, they are not animals; they are simply something else. What do they weave for the web of life in the world as we know it? Why do they cover such a large part of the earth’s land surface? There are over a hundred species of lichens on the base of the trees in the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. We don’t know how many different ones are in the canopy, or the soil or on the rocks here. Everything in Nature has a place and a purpose. The Lichen Hunters are exploring what that might be for the lichens in the Kickapoo. Come on out for a walk in the woods and help us learn about the Tiny Ones.

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Cladonia sp. and moss on rock

Mycorrhizal Fungus: Lichen’s Cousins

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We may be hearing a lot more in the future about mycorrhizal fungus.  This site is an ongoing story about lichen, and officially, mycorrhizal fungi are not really ‘cousins’ of lichens. But cousins are often the most numerous relatives we have, so I use that term to foster awareness that the fungus Kingdom is varied and vast. Sometimes getting to know one member of a family entails getting to know other members of the family one had not planned on meeting, or even knew existed. At the party called Daily Life on Earth, meeting all the relatives is part of the fun.

I met a mycorrhizal fungus last fall, on a dead tree trunk at the end of the Wintergreen Trail. I believe it is hyphae but do not know the fungus species. If anyone reading this knows, please post your ideas! Even deceased, it was an impressive presence. Long dark threads hung from the leaning tree trunk where the dry bark had separated from the inner wood. The threads formed a complex web several feet long, dangling in the air. The strands were so strong I could not break them by hand. There was yards and yards of this fibrous material. It seemed to have covered most of the surface of the tree trunk, under the bark.IMG_20151019_131741633

Fiber strings from under tree bark

     The picture is blurry, but the very dark strings and dark bark had no noticeable detail, so the picture is close to what I saw. The extent of the fiber mass was impressive.

    Why am I talking about this mat of dark threads? Because I was exploring the NASA Global Climate Change site and found a story on mapping the  mycorrhizae locations in forests, by mycorrhizae species. Read the story for why NASA is doing this; it’s interesting. There are two mycorrhizal species and trees use one or the other. The forests are regulated by the signals the mycorrhizae send through the trees. They work with other plants too. Scientists think this is important enough to make maps of where each species is in the forest, in relation to the tree species, and they are doing so by satellite images. So that old adage “you can’t see the forest for the trees” is true for us in a much deeper way than we ever understood before. The trees are one part of a vast and complex web of living beings, all talking to each other and cooperating to regulate themselves and their environment. Once we lift the curtain of our preconceptions, amazing things start to show up everywhere. If we only see trees,  birds and some flowers, we are missing the major part of the forest. There is far more diversity and number of living beings in and under the soil than above it, and as much metabolic function occurs on and in the ground as above. The Small Ones may be at least as interesting as the large plants and animals we easily recognize.

     After reading the article and thinking again about the mycorrhizae, I wonder about the relationships between fungus that don’t make lichen and those that do; between the chemistry created by one group of trees and fungus, and the signals of moisture, temperature, nutrients and more that may be allowing or encouraging certain other living beings to take up residence nearby. We know so little about the extensive activity going on just underground. What similar actions may the lichen be doing? After bacteria, they are the original homesteaders, setting up the terrain to be hospitable to the first mosses and vascular plants. Lichen are very good at getting along with other life forms and have made a place for themselves everywhere on earth. Maybe they have something to tell us about their part in regulating the forest, beyond their original activity of creating soil and available nutrients from rock and wood and air.

    So, no lichen pictures today, just questions about this green and shining world we share with unknown others.

    Check this blog again soon, for information on our first KVR lichen survey route.

Lichens from Florida

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Julie H-florida lichen 1

Cladonia evansii

    This gorgeous lichen was found by Julie Hoel in St. George Island State Park, off the panhandle of Florida, late this winter. It is growing in a slash pine forest, on sandy ground. Thanks Julie for sharing this.

    We don’t see this lichen in the Kickapoo, but I remember similar lichen in the jack pine forests of the Wisconsin River valley when I was a child. The oak and jack pine forests from Mazomanie, Arena, Spring Green, and Lone Rock area were filled with mosses and lichens. The ground was covered and they hung on tree branches. It was a wonderland of shapes and colors. As a child I knew it was a magical place and I spent many hours there but had no way to know what I was seeing. Now those forests are mostly gone, covered with irrigated, industrial scale, sprayed crops. The lichen are in retreat and mostly absent. With them went the diversity of birds, amphibians and plants that made up that fragile and beautiful land. In those days only a child would recognize the beauty in that dry, unassuming landscape but now some of the goat prairies and grasslands are being restored, and there are remnants of sandy jack pine forests in the river valley.

     Julie’s Florida lichen picture inspires me to explore some of the Wisconsin River valley forests that are left to search for my lichen and moss friends from years ago.

      I’ll let you know what I find!

Julie H- florida lichen3Cladonia evansii with its friends, the mosses

 photo by Julie Hoel

Winter Lichens 3

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CO trail 2-4-16 Julie and cliff 2

Julie, Olga and I went out to view the white and wonderful woods after the big snow a couple days ago, and I, of course, had a secret agenda to also check on the Little Ones. As soon as the new snow warmed slightly the snow fleas were out hopping around. I knew the lichen would not be hopping around! But they do show their colors in the snow and I am still searching for new species. Each day in the forest brings the possibility of meeting a new lichen (as well as whatever other wonders appear whenever one stays in the woods a while). We are walking on Cutoff Trail. The ice has formed curtains along the rock walls, as it has almost everywhere this year.

CO trail 2-4-16 icefall

No ice caves here, just a small cliff. The rock is mostly covered with liverwort, moss, fern; the lichen are small. One of my favorite trees, the river birch with its beautiful coppery bark, stands here.

CO trail 2-4-16 lichen on river birch

The lichen like this tree too; the moist base has a colony of aqua blue lichen. Aren’t they beautiful on the red and silver bark? Since the names are not verified yet, I can describe them any way I wish, in this blog anyway! Don’t worry, names will be forthcoming by spring.

Turkeys flapped around in the treetops. The sun came out. On the south slope, snow in the branches began to melt, just enough to form liquid water at the edges of the snow on each branch. The trees were suddenly illuminated in diamonds of light. A few moments later as we walked away from the direct sunshine, the warming air simply made the clumps of snow in the branches fall off on our heads.

This is not a lichen, it is a fungus, making a little snow sculpture on the side of a tree.

CO trail 2-4-16 tree fungus

While we move about so quickly and ceaselessly, the trees, moss, rocks and lichen quietly remain. The ice moves too. More slowly than us but faster than lichen, rock or tree; changing all those slow moving ones as it forms, grows and then disappears. The lichen and their rocks and trees will be here as we and the ice come and go.  CO trail 2-4-16 icicles g

CO trail lichen under ice 2-4-16

Remember to enjoy the small things in life.

 

Winter Lichens Part 2

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Remember this, from a week ago? A little frosty but still green and growing.BHrock lichen 6 w side of hill frozen

Today, January 10th, it was 5 degrees above zero and this is my lichen hunting outfit; every layer of Canadian ski clothes I can find:

Winter lichen hunting outfit

And here’s Lichen Land now:

Home 1-10-16 lichen under ice rock face

But as we know, the lichen are quietly waiting for the ice to melt. Meanwhile the ice is busy make beautiful patterns. I wonder what it looks like from underneath, where the lichens are?

Home 1-10-16 lichen under ice 2

Since it was so cold today, I went out to see what the lichens looked like on the hill behind our house. As I searched for them in the ice and snow I thought about how quickly they exchange their active life for dormancy. Another warm day and these ice covered lichen will be back to life in a few hours.

Below: very cold lichen

Home 1-10-16 lichen zero degrees in slide 2

Home 1-10-16 rocks above house and fern

Home 1-10-16 above house lichen zero degrees

It’s fun to see what else is out in the woods besides the lichen.

This is the hilltop where these pictures were taken:

Home 1-10-16 point above house and east

It’s a busy place. See all the tracks? Our coyote friends like to gather in this area and sing to us. Their tracks tell the story of what they do while here.

Home 1-10-16 where the coyotes play 1

Sandstone catching the afternoon light

Home 1-10-16 rock 2 or 3a

At the top of the ridge a dead tree trunk supported these fungus

Home 1-10-16 tree fungus 5

After an hour there seemed to be more and more snow and less lichens, and it was getting colder so I went home. I went less than a quarter mile from the house and had a good adventure. What’s close to home where you live? If you’re out there and meet your own resident lichens, share them with us!