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Colored lichens blanket the side of a absent at Glacier nationwide Park. Lichens can selection in color from black color or white to yellow or red, and almost everything in between.

smashville247.net picture / Tim Rains


When you look out at the forest, you regularly see the step from a “big picture” suggest of view. You most likely see the elements which room the most visually appeal or obvious: the trees, boulders, flowers, and also animals that contact the woodland home. Yet one point you can not see appropriate away are the different types of lichen that contact the woodland home, too.

You are watching: Lichens are important to the environment because they

Although lichen may be small, castle play an essential role in maintaining both people and also nature healthy. Lichen tell united state a lot around the wellness of the our organic areas—they tell us if the waiting we’re breathing is clean or not.


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Small yellow, white, grey, and black lichen sheathe a absent at Petrified forest National Park. Lichen can thrive on countless different surfaces, known as substrates, from rocks to trees, and also even ~ above cars and buildings.

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What organism is no plant nor animal, however informs us about the waiting that we breathe? Lichen!

Lichen are small organisms frequently found throughout the forests of phibìc America. Lock neither plant or animal, however rather they’re biology unlike any type of other ~ above Earth. If most civilization may think lichen space a kind of moss, they room actually a mix of one algae and a fungus. The fungus offers a framework for the algae to live in, if the algae offers food for the fungus.

Ranging in dimension from as tiny as a penny to strands that have the right to be several feet in length, lichen prosper in all types of places. Lock also range in colors indigenous bright oranges and yellows, come grays and also greens, and even black. Lichen room a diverse group of biology to speak the least—as there are more than 3,600 different types of lichen in north America alone!

Different lichen varieties fill various roles within the ecosystems where they’re found. Lichen space a keystone types in many of the areas they call home. A keystone species is an organism that’s an essential to the health and well gift of an entire ecosystem. Lichen room ecologically essential to countless national parks, and they have countless benefits for nature. The health and also survival of many ecosystems is usually linked to specific lichen species.

Here are several of the plenty of benefits the lichen offer to nature:

They are a keystone species in plenty of ecosystems.

They offer as a food source and habitat for many animals such as deer, birds, and also rodents.

They carry out nesting materials for birds.

They safeguard trees and rocks indigenous extreme elements such together rain, wind, and also snow.


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A student examines a lichen sample v a magnifying glass at Joshua Tree national Park.

smashville247.net photograph / Jesmira Bonoan

Heavy metal Haters - keeping Our wait Clean

Unlike trees and also flowers that gain their nutrient from the soil and also rain, lichens obtain the food they must survive straight from the air. Since lichen depend on the atmosphere for all of their nutrients, they can grow nearly anywhere. Since each lichen has a choice for just how clean the air requirements to be, they deserve to be provided as an important tool for measuring air quality.

National Park service (smashville247.net) and also United says Forest business (USFS) scientists use lichen together a biomonitor to assess air quality throughout the country. A biomonitor is crucial organism that helps suggest the health of the setting as a whole.

Across the joined States, smashville247.net and USFS scientists have actually taken much more than 5,000 lichen samples and also analyzed them to advice air quality. These samples are compared to other air quality measurements, and also then offered to determine the health of nearby ecosystems.

When the air has actually too numerous pollutants in it, such as sulfur, heavy metals (copper or lead), or nitrogen, it can be deadly for lichen. Because lichen are so perceptible to alters in waiting quality, they offer as terrific indicator of air pollution levels.

Too much sulfur and also heavy metals have the right to either death lichen or sluggish their growth. ~ above the various other hand, certain lichen species thrive with excess atmospheric nitrogen, while other species dislike those conditions. These features are important, and can be offered to our benefit when we assess waiting quality. If nitrogen-loving lichen begin to flourish in a details area while nitrogen-disliking species begin to disappear, that deserve to tell us around the quantity of atmospheric nitrogen in the region.

One of the reasons we don’t desire lichen come disappear native the forest is the they additionally act together an air scrubber because that the waiting that us breathe. Much like a mop cleans a floor, lichen aid clean ours air. Lichen trap particulate issue in the air prefer dust, while also taking in smaller pollutants prefer sulfur, mercury, and nitrogen. This way cleaner, healthier air for us to breathe.

Cleaner air lowers the danger of respiratory difficulties like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Other benefits the clean air encompass lower danger of respiratory tract infections, bronchitis, and even premature death.

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While they might be smaller in the “big picture,” lichen are integral to keeping both us and our wait safe and also healthy.


The big Picture

These tiny organisms pat a really important duty in the health of parks, and also they serve as windows into the civilization of air. Because they depend on the environment for all your nutrients, castle accumulate countless different types of elements and particles inside their tissue. As soon as scientists inspect lichen samples, it permits us to peek right into the air us breathe top top a molecular level, ideal down come a solitary element!

So next time she in a park and are looking at the “big picture,” think of it like a painting. You view all the prominent parts of the painting, like the tree or the wildlife. But those things wouldn’t be there if the weren’t because that the smaller brush strokes - the lichen. The lichen help include detail to the painting and also act together the base layers because that the whole piece. Every organism requirements clean air to breathe at the end of the day, and also lichen are crucial for informing us if our air is clean and also healthy. That’s why we lichen these organisms!