Trial run of study at the Cheney wetlands

Letharia vulpina

Letharia vulpina: Note the isidia covering the skin (cortex) making it look quite stubbly. Photo by Jason Hollinger.

On Wednesday, Therese and I headed out to the Cheney wetlands to do a practice run on our procedures, and to test out the lichen collection card. We went over some of the basics of collection, such as how to see the difference between two species that look alot alike at first glance. such as Letharia columbiana and Letharia vulpina.

Letharia columbiana: Note the lack of isidia or soredia, and the smoother skin (cortex). Photo by Jason Hollinger.

We also discussed some of the difficulties with the abundance portion of the lichen collection card, since rating abundance in our study is a bit trickier than the Forest Service’s protocols because the FS’s substrates are limited to trees, while ours include all possible substrates including shrubs, soil, rocks, the base of trees, and rotting logs.

Lichen abundance rating as set by the U.S.F.S. Lichen program

So we decided that we will rate the abundance of a lichen species found on a substrate throughout the plot, since most lichen will be limited to that substrate anyways. In the case that a lichen species does have numerous substrates, we will jot that down and rate its abundance on these other substrates.

So the process now is as follows: first we collect the lichen paying particular attention to choose specimens that have reproductive parts, if possible. We jot down the GPS coordinates, elevation, height (height above soil line if on rock or tree), position (on top of or underneath a branch, top or side of rock, facing wetlands, etc), aspect (N,E,S,W). In order to rate abundance, after we collect the lichen we will do a walk around the plot to determine its abundance. We then will move onto the next lichen species. We are going to be working in tandem at least in the beginning, but perhaps we will continue to do this in the future for all the field work.

Lichen collection card, adapted from the U.S.F.S. lichen collecting protocols for 2011.

We also decided to include on our cards the number of different species found within a variable range around the lichen collected, such as within 6 inch radius on a rock. As we learn more of the crustose lichen, we will be able to jot down their names too, and that will be exciting.

As far as our collections at the Cheney wetlands, we made some great findings!

Firstly, we found an Evernia prunastri that is totally devastated by eutrophic air pollution, which is sad, but definately indicates that lichen may be very useful in helping to monitor the restoration of air quality in our area.

Devastated Evernia prunastri

The completely sorediated Evernia prunastri from the Cheney wetlands. Eutrophic air pollution is the most likely source causing the abundance of soredia (powdery balls that are asexual propagules of the lichen).

A healthy Evernia prunastri from a non-polluted area. Note how much smoother the skin is, the lack of soredia or isidia.

Since our study locations include sites that are along polluted and unpolluted inflows, we will be able to see the difference in air quality described by the lichen thallus of species such as Evernia prunastri. There are other species that also look odd, including a harder-than-usual-to-identify Hypogymnia. Morphological changes associated with eutrophic air pollution will comprise more of my readings this week to prepare myself for field and lab work, because if I had not serendipitously opened McCune and Geiser’s Macrolichens of the Pacific Northwest (Second Edition) to a page showing a morphological changes associated with eutrophic air pollution right as I was attempting to key this out, I would have had quite a tough time.

McCune and Geiser's book showing morphological changes associated with eutrophic air pollution.

Secondly, as far as great findings this past week: we collected only 12 samples, but (if my identifications are correct) we’ve already found two species that are not on the current Turnbull lichen inventory list! So we’ll be looking for these while we’re at the refuge. These include: Physcia tenella and Cladonia pocillum. I only had my phone camera the other day at the lab, so I’ll have to upload the Physcia and Cladonia up later, cause they were far too tiny to capture adequately with a tiny lens. But here are a few of the other macrolichen species we found over at the Cheney wetlands: Vulpicida canadensis, Cetraria chlorophylla, and Usnea hirta.

Usnea hirta: a fruticose lichen found at the Cheney wetlands.

Vulpicida canadensis, a foliose lichen collected at the Cheney wetlands.

Cetraria chlorophylla, also from the Cheney wetlands. (Its the dark brown foliose lichen near the center-top of the branch)

All in all, last week was great working in Dr. O’Quinn’s lab. Finding two species that are not on the current inventory for the refuge is promising. Such results from a brief trial support our hypothesis that we will be able to add many more species to the refuge’s lichen inventory by performing targeted surveys, and I’m excited to see what we find out when we plug our data into the U.S. Forest Service’s lichen community gradient models.

For those readers interested in lists of macro lichen found in surrounding forested areas, check out the lichen species list the U.S.F.S. has created for the Colville National Forest here.



One thought on “Trial run of study at the Cheney wetlands

  1. Great post Nastassja! I’m glad to hear the project is going well and you’re finding some interesting specimens.

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