Nature’s Extreme Survivors: The Lichens

- Photo Credit: Scot Duncan
- Photo Credit: Scot Duncan
- Photo Credit: Scot Duncan
- Photo Credit: Scot Duncan
- Photo Credit: Scot Duncan
Lichen and pine needle
- Photo Credit: Scot Duncan

If you think the climbers who tackle Moss Rock’s boulders are tough, check out the tiny lichens that grow on the stones. Lichens thrive in some of Earth’s most extreme environments, including the frozen tundra, arid deserts and rocky coasts. And they’re all over Moss Rock’s boulders and sandstone glades.

They may look like splotches of paint, but lichens are complicated organisms made up of a fungus and either green algae or cyanobacteria. The two components work together in a symbiotic relationship: the algae or cyanobacterial cells do photosynthesis just like plants and share the energy captured from sunlight with the fungus; meanwhile, the fungus, which grows around them, protects them from the harsh environment.

This partnership allows both organisms to extend their range and gives lichens their staying power in ultra-tough conditions. But as hard-core as they may seem, many lichens are vulnerable when their environment is disturbed, and some scientists use them to look at air pollution, ozone depletion and metal contamination.

Take some time to explore the ecosystem on the rocks; you might even want to bring a magnifying glass to take a closer look. Here are a few examples you might find.

– Hannah Wolfson