Biodiversity, over 3,000 Alpine species of lichens catalogued
There are over 3,000 species of lichens in the Alps. This is what emerges from the first catalogue of Alpine lichens published in the journal MycoKeys.
The publication is the result of a long study, carried out by a research group coordinated by Pier Luigi Nimis of the University of Trieste, which also involved the University of Graz, Austria, and the Conservatory and Botanical Garden of Geneva, Switzerland.
Thanks to this effort, the scientists catalogued a total of 3,138 species of lichens reported from eight European countries: Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Slovenia and Switzerland.
“It was a long and painstaking work, which lasted almost 15 years, revealing a surprisingly high number of yet to be resolved taxonomic problems, which will hopefully trigger further research in the coming years”, explained the authors of the study.
The product of the symbiosis between a fungus and one or more photosynthetic organisms – for example green algae or cyanobacteria – lichens play an important ecological role. Once the symbiosis is established, the new “composite” starts to behave as a single individual, able to convert sunlight into essential nutrients and, at the same time, to resist ultraviolet radiation.
These organisms are particularly useful to scientists since they are excellent bioindicators of air quality and climate change. Being able to grow on a wide range of surfaces – from tree bark to soil and rock – lichens work as real “biomonitors” of forest health.
The study, led by the University of Trieste, focused on the lichens present in the Alps, one of the largest natural areas in Europe. With its numerous habitats, this mountain system is home to a large number of living species and is therefore one of the best studied areas in the world in terms of biodiversity. And yet, until now no overview of the lichen species present here had been provided.
The checklist produced by the researchers aims to fill this gap, offering a valuable tool to scientists for retrieving the huge amount of information on Alpine lichens accumulated over centuries of research. The new catalogue also provides a basis for future taxonomic revisions, critical re-appraisal of poorly-known species and further exploration of under-explored areas.