WHAT ARE LICHENS?
Lichens are formed by stable symbiotic interactions between fungi and algae.
The fungus provides most of the mass and structure of the lichen and algae live inside the scaffold created by the fungus. In return for a ‘home’ the algae photosynthesize and provide sugars for the fungus.
WHY ARE LICHENS IMPORTANT?
Lichens are a diverse and essential component of biological soil crusts in semi-arid, arid, and alpine ecosystems such as California or the Himalayas. They slow water-runoff, add nutrients and prevent soils from eroding.
Yet, they are incredibly sensitive to disturbance (e.g., trampling, especially by livestock) and like old growth forests can take centuries to recover.
WHAT IF LICHENS DISAPPEARED?
Without lichens, the soil erosion would result in a decrease in plant species diversity, plant height, vegetation cover and plant productivity.
The loss of lichens would also be a major concern for humans who rely on these habitats for income. Without a proper income, local economies and traditional ways of life can be lost.