Living with the Lichens | Sunday Observer

Living with the Lichens

2 December, 2018

Lichens are self-contained miniature ecosystems and behave as good farmers in nature. It is estimated that 6% of Earth’s land surface is covered by lichens. There are about 20,000 known species of lichens. Some lichens have lost the ability to reproduce sexually, nevertheless continue to speciate.

Lichens are found growing almost everywhere in the world from sea level to high alpine elevations, in many environmental conditions, and can grow on virtually any surface including manmade structures; glass, tiles, fibre, rubber, concrete etc. The longest living lichens recorded from the Arctic and Antarctic continents which are over 3,000 years old are considered to be among the oldest living organisms.

Lichens play a vital role as bio-indicators of air pollution, ozone depletion, metal contamination and climate change, since they are extremely sensitive to environmental changes. Although it goes unnoticed many animals including humans depend on lichens; mimicry, to capture food, bedding and housing, dyes, antibiotics, perfumes, tea, flavouring agents, etc. Tropical regions in the world are the hotspots for lichens. During past five years over 80 new species were discovered in Sri Lanka. For lichen family Graphidaceae, Sri Lanka has been identified as the world’s hotspot. However, these fascinating organisms have not received due attention. Most of the lichens are exclusively found in specific habitats in the country and are point endemics. There is an urge to identify these organisms and conserve them in their natural habitats.

Dr GothamieWeerakoon, Senior Curator of Lichens and Slime Moulds at the Natural History Museum of London will deliver the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society Monthly Lecture at Jasmine Hall, BMICH, on December 13, 2018.

Her research interests are focused on the taxonomy and ecology of tropical lichens, bioindication and conservation of lichenised fungi in endangered habitats.

The main responsibility as the Senior Curator of British, General and Historical herbaria is to manage and develop one of the world’s largest lichen collections, lichenicolous fungi and slime moulds with approximately 450,000 specimens.

She has spent much time in the field in South and South East Asia observing lichens in their native habitats and described more than 75 new lichen species, mostly in Graphidaceae from the Old World tropics.

Entrance is free of charge.