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Lichens

Lichens

Lichens are an intimate symbiosis, in which two species live together as a type of composite organism. Lichens are an obligate mutualism between a fungus mycobiont and an alga or blue-green bacterium phycobiont.

Each lichen mutualism is highly distinctive, and can be identified on the basis of its size, shape, color, and biochemistry . Even though lichens are not true "species" in the conventional meaning of the word, lichenologists have developed systematic and taxonomic treatments of these mutualisms.

The fungal partner in the lichen mutualism gains important benefits through access to photosynthetic products of the alga or blue-green bacterium. The phycobiont profits from the availability of a relatively moist and protected habitat, and greater access to inorganic nutrients.

The most common fungi in lichens are usually species of Ascomycetes, or a few Basidiomycetes. The usual algal partners are either species of green algae Chlorophyta or blue-green bacteria of the family Cyanophyceae. In general, the fungal partner cannot live without its phycobiont, but the algae is often capable of living freely in moist soil or water. The largest lichens can form a thallus up to 3 ft (1 m) long, although most lichens are smaller than a few inches or centimeters in length. Lichens can be very colorful, ranging from bright reds and oranges, to yellows and greens, and white, gray, and black hues.

Most lichens grow very slowly. Lichens in which the phycobiont is a blue-green bacterium have the ability to fix nitrogen gas into ammonia. Some lichens can commonly reach ages of many centuries, especially species living in highly stressful environments, such as alpine or arctic tundra.

Lichens can grow on diverse types of substrates. Some species grow directly on rocks, some on bare soil, and others on the bark of tree trunks and branches. Lichens often grow under exposed conditions that are frequently subjected to periods of drought, and sometimes to extremes of hot and cold. Lichen species vary greatly in their tolerance of severe environmental conditions. Lichens generally respond to environmental extremes by becoming dormant, and then quickly becoming metabolically active again when they experience more benign conditions.

Lichens are customarily divided into three growth forms, although this taxonomy is one of convenience, and is not ultimately founded on systematic relationships. Crustose lichens form a thallus that is closely appressed to the surface upon which they are growing. Foliose lichens are only joined to their substrate by a portion of their thallus, and they are somewhat leaf-like in appearance. Fruticose lichens rise above their substrate, and are much branched and bushy in appearance.

Most lichens regenerate asexually as lichen symbioses, and not by separate reproduction of their mycobiont and phycobiont. Reproduction is most commonly accomplished by small, specialized fragments of thallus known as soredia, consisting of fungal tissue enclosing a small number of algal cells. The soredia generally originate within the parent thallus, then grow out through the surface of the thallus, and detach as small bits of tissue that are dispersed by the wind or rain. If the dispersing soredium is fortunate enough to lodge in a favorable microenvironment, it develops into a new thallus, genetically identical to the parent.

Because they are capable of colonizing bare rocks and other mineral substrates, lichens are important in soil formation during some ecological successions. For example, lichens are among the first organisms to colonize sites as they are released from glacial ice. In such situations, lichens can be important in the initial stages of nitrogen accumulation and soil development during post-glacial primary succession.

Lichens are important forage for some species of animals. The best known example of this relationship involves the northern species of deer known as caribou or reindeer (Rangifer tarandus ) and the so-called reindeer lichens (Cladina spp. ) that are one of their most important foods, especially during winter.

Some species of lichens are very sensitive to air pollutants. Consequently, urban environments are often highly impoverished in lichen species. Some ecologists have developed schemes by which the intensity of air pollution can be reliably assayed or monitored using the biological responses of lichens in their communities. Monitoring of air quality using lichens can be based on the health and productivity of these organisms in places variously stressed by toxic pollution. Alternatively, the chemical composition of lichens may be assayed, because their tissues can effectively take up and retain sulfur and metals from the atmosphere.

Some lichens are useful as a source of natural dyes. Pigments of some of the more colorful lichens, especially the orange, red, and brown ones, can be extracted by boiling and used to dye wool and other fibers. Other chemicals extracted from lichens include litmus, which was a commonly used acid-base indicator prior to the invention of the pH meter.

Some of the reindeer lichens, especially Cladina alpestris, are shaped like miniature shrubs and trees. Consequently, these plants are sometimes collected, dried, and dyed, and are used in "landscaping" the layouts for miniature railroads and architectural models.

In addition, lichens add significantly to the aesthetics of the ecosystems in which they occur. The lovely orange and yellow colors of Caloplaca and Xanthoria lichens add much to the ambience of rocky seashores and tundras. The intricate webs of filamentous Usnea lichens hanging in profusion from tree branches give a mysterious aspect to humid forests. These and other, less charismatic lichens are integral components of their natural ecosystems. These lichens are intrinsically important for this reason, as well as for the relatively minor benefits that they provide to humans.

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lichen

lichen (lī´kən), usually slow-growing organism of simple structure, composed of fungi (see Fungi) and photosynthetic green algae or cyanobacteria living together in a symbiotic relationship and resulting in a structure that resembles neither constituent. There are about 25,000 species, most comprised of a sac fungus (Ascomycete) and a green alga of the genus Trebouxia or Trentepohlia or a cyanobacterium of the genus Nostoc; some lichens include multiple species of fungi.

Lichens commonly grow on rocks, trees, fence posts, and similar objects. The body (thallus) of the lichen is made up of the filaments, or hyphae, of the fungus. Its typical greenish gray color is due to the combination of the chlorophyll from the photosynthetic organism with the colorless fungi, although sometimes the thallus may be red, orange, or brown. Lichens require no food source other than light, air, and minerals. They depend heavily on rainwater for their minerals and are sensitive to rain-borne pollutants. The fungal component of lichens produces acids that disintegrate rock, giving the lichen a better hold and aiding weathering processes, which eventually turn rock into soil. Lichens usually reproduce by the breaking off of a segment that contains both components.

Lichens can withstand great extremes of temperature and are found in arctic, antarctic, and tropical regions. They are often the pioneer forms of life—as in parts of Iceland and Greenland, where they are the predominant vegetation. Reindeer moss (Cladonia rangiferina) and Iceland moss (Cetraria islandica), both low, branching forms, provide food for large mammals and other animals in northern regions. Old-man's-beard (Usnea barbata) is a temperate species that hangs like Spanish moss from coniferous trees.

Before the discovery of aniline dyes, lichens were much used for silk and wool dyes. The blue and purple dyes litmus and archil are still obtained from species of lichens. Others have been used in perfume manufacturing and brewing. The "manna" of the Bible is thought by some to have been a lichen found in Old World deserts and easily carried along by wind.

See V. Alimadjian, The Lichen Symbiosis (1967); M. E. Hale, Jr., The Biology of Lichens (1970); I. M. Brodo et al., Lichens of North America (2001).

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Lichen

Lichen

A lichen is a compound organism built of a fungus intimately entwined about cyanobacteria or cells of an alga. From a distance, a lichen is a brightly colored coat on a tree, a low, bushlike structure, or greenish growths hanging from branches. Lichens are found in diverse places, from tropical rain forests to dry grasslands, shrinking where water is scarce and growing lushly where water is plentiful. They are particularly plentiful in the tundra, where they feed reindeer and are known as "reindeer moss." Some lichens even grow in association with a third organism, such as on the cuticle of an insect.

Each partner of a lichen contributes different synthetic capabilities. The cyanobacterium or algal cell, which comprises less than 10 percent of the mass of the dual organism, is vital to its survival because it can photosynthesize, capturing solar energy. The fungus secretes acids that release minerals and water from rocks. The fungus seems to benefit more from this living partnership, for it grows more slowly alone than when part of a lichen, but the situation is the opposite for the alga or cyanobacterium. Lichens may reproduce with knoblike structures that house sex cells from both components. These reach new sites carried by rain, wind, or animals.

Lichens play key roles in ecosystems . They can survive extremes of altitude and temperature that either component alone cannot. By growing within rock crevices, they contribute to soil formation, the first event as life comes to an area. Despite their hardiness, lichens are exquisitely sensitive to pollution because they cannot detoxify and excrete harmful chemicals.

Humans have used lichens in various ways. As a food, it might have been the biblical "manna from heaven." Various cultures have used lichens to create and dye fabrics, to tan leather, to poison arrows, and to treat infections. About 13,500 types of lichen are recognized.

see also Algae; Forest, Boreal; Fungi; Plant

Ricki Lewis

Bibliography

Milius, Susan. "Yikes! The Lichens Went Flying." Science News 158, no. 9 (26 August 2000): 140.

Purvis, William. Lichens. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2000.

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lichens

lichens A group of organisms that are symbiotic associations (see symbiosis) between a fungus (usually one of the Ascomycota) and a green alga or a blue-green bacterium. The fungal partner (mycobiont) usually makes up most of the lichen body and the cells of the alga or bacterium (phycobiont) are distributed within it. The phycobiont photosynthesizes and passes most of its food to the fungus and the fungus protects its partner's cells. The lichen reproduces by means of soredia, isidia, or by fungal spores, which must find a suitable partner on germination. Lichens are slow growing but can live in regions that are too cold or exposed for other plants. They may form a flattened crust or be erect and branching. Many grow as epiphytes, especially on tree trunks. Some species are very sensitive to air pollution and have been used as indicator species. Lichens are classified as fungi, usually being placed in the taxon of the fungal partner; some authorities group them together in the phylum Mycophycophyta.

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Lichens

Lichens

Lichens are the "dynamic duo" of the plant world. They consist of a fungus and a photosynthetic partner (green algae or cyanobacteria , or sometimes both) that live and grow so intimately interconnected that they appear to be a single organism. The fungus surrounds its green partner and shares in the sugars and other carbohydrates that the alga or cyanobacterium produces by photosynthesis. At the same time the fungus provides a protected environment for its food-producing partner and expands its potential habitats. Lichen fungi have a range of nutritional relationships with their associated algae or cyanobacteria from almost pure parasitism to a very benign association called symbiosis, or, more specifically, mutualistic symbiosis, wherein both partners benefit equally from the partnership. Lichens are an extremely successful life form, with thousands of species throughout the world. Some are extremely tiny and inconspicuous, little more than a black or gray smudge, but others can form broad, brightly colored patches or grow to be up to 3 meters long.

Fungal and Algal Components of Lichens

The fungi that form lichens mainly belong to the sac fungi or Ascomycetes, although a few are mushroom-forming fungi, the Basidiomycetes. Each recognizable lichen (with a few interesting exceptions) represents a separate species of fungus; about fourteen thousand are known. The name we give to each lichen is actually the name of its fungal component. There are, however, only a few hundred species of photosynthetic symbionts (photobionts for short) that are involved in lichen partnerships. Lichen fungi are very choosy about their photobionts, and so each recognizable lichen generally contains a specific photobiont. Any given photobiont may, however, be found in many different lichens. A number of lichens associate with a green alga as their main photosynthetic partner but also produce small warts or gall-like bumps containing cyanobacteria, which contribute to the lichen's nutrition and survival.

Lichen Types and Reproduction

Lichens come in many shapes and sizes. They can be roughly grouped into four growth types: crustose, foliose, squamulose, and fruticose. Crustose lichens form a thin or thick crust so tightly attached to the material on which it grows (the substrate) that one has to remove the substrate together with the lichen to make a collection. A foliose lichen is leaflike; it is flat and has a clearly distinguishable upper and lower surface. Foliose lichens are attached to the substrate directly by the lower surface or by means of tiny hairlike structures called rhizines. Squamulose lichens are scalelike with flat lobes as in foliose lichens but more like crustose lichens in size and stature. Fruticose lichens are clearly three dimensional, growing vertically as stalks or shrubby cushions or hanging down from branches or rock faces with hair- or strap-shaped branches.

The arrangement of tissues within most lichens follows the same basic plan. In a typical foliose lichen, a relatively tough upper cortex functions as a protective layer. Below the cortex is a green layer formed by the photo-biont, then comes a cottony medulla , and, finally, on the lower surface, there is usually a protective lower cortex. The rhizines develop from the lower cortex.

Lichen reproduction is rather complex because at least two organisms are involved. The lichen fungus can produce sexual fruiting bodies and spores, but the photobionts reproduce only by cell division within the lichen. When a fungal spore is dispersed by wind or water, it can germinate almost anywhere, but it will form a new lichen only if it encounters the right kind of photobiont. This is a chancy business, and the vast majority of spores perish without forming new lichens.

There is, however, a less perilous way for lichens to reproduce. Any fragment of a lichen containing both the fungus and photobiont has the potential of developing into a new lichen. Many lichens have, in fact, evolved special, easily dispersed fragments in the form of powdery particles (soredia) or spherical to elongated granules or outgrowths (isidia).

Ecology of Lichens

Although lichens as a whole can be found growing on a wide variety of surfaces including rock, bark, wood, leaves, peat, and soil, individual species are more or less confined to specific substrates. Lichens are most conspicuous where other forms of vegetation are sparse, such as the bark of roadside trees or the surface of granitic boulders. They are usually the first organisms to invade entirely bare rock, contributing to the first particles of soil on the rock surface. Lichens carpet the ground in the vast boreal forests of the north, drape the trees and shrubs of foggy coastal regions and tropical cloud forests, and cover the exposed rocks on mountaintops and in the Arctic. They occur from the tropics to the polar regions and from lake edges and seashores to the desert. In general, however, lichens do best where there is much light, moist air, and cool temperatures. Lichens are notoriously sensitive to even small amounts of air pollution, especially the sulfur dioxide so common in cities and near factories, and large cities often have no lichens at all. Their disappearance from an area is an early sign of deteriorating air quality.

Importance and Economic Uses of Lichens

The importance of lichens to the natural world and to humans is not well appreciated except, perhaps, for their role in soil formation. Lichens containing cyanobacteria are important sources of nitrogen in certain forest and desert ecosystems . The ground-dwelling boreal lichens preserve the ground's moisture. Lichens growing in the dry soils of the interior prairies and foothills prevent erosion.

Although lichens have usually been used as human food only in times of emergency (they are unpalatable and have very little nutritional value), a few lichen delicacies are enjoyed by native people of western North America and by the Japanese. Reindeer lichens in the boreal forest, however, are essential as winter forage for caribou herds, which are, in turn, basic to the survival and culture of northern native people. Some lichens yield a chemical called usnic acid, which is an effective antibiotic against certain types of bacteria. Other chemicals produced only by lichens have been used as a source of rusty red, yellow, and purple dyes for coloring wool and silk. Extracts of oakmoss lichens have been used for generations in the perfume industry. The litmus used to determine the acidity of solutions comes from a lichen. The most important use of lichens today, however, is for detecting and monitoring air pollution.

see also Algae; Boreal Forest; Fungi; Plant Community Processes.

Irwin M. Brodo

Bibliography

Casselman, Karen L. Craft of the Dyer: Colour from Plants and Lichens, 2nd ed. New York: Dover Publications Inc., 1993.

Hale, Mason E. How to Know the Lichens, 2nd ed. Dubuque, IA: W. C. Brown Co., 1979.

McCune, Bruce, Linda Geiser, Alexander Mikulin, and Sylvia D. Sharnoff. Macrolichens of the Pacific Northwest. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press, 1997.

Nash, Thomas H., III, ed. Lichen Biology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Richardson, D. H. S. "Pollution Monitoring with Lichens." Naturalists' Handbook 19. Slough, England: Richmond Publishing Co., 1992.

Sharnoff, Sylvia D., and Stephen Sharnoff. "Lichens of North America Project" [On-line] 1997. Available at http://www.lichen.com.

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lichen

lichen (ly-kĕn) n. any of several types of skin disease. l. planus an extremely itchy skin disease of unknown cause. Shiny flat-topped mauve spots may occur anywhere but are characteristically found on the inside of the wrists. It may take the form of a white lacy pattern in the mouth, which usually produces no symptoms. l. simplex chronicus (neurodermatitis) thickened eczematous skin that develops at the site of constant rubbing, often at the nape of the neck (in women) or lower legs (in men). l. sclerosus a chronic disease affecting the anogenital area, especially the vulva in women, and characterized by sheets of ivory-white skin.

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lichen

lichen A type of composite organism, which consists of a fungus (the mycobiont) and an alga or cyanobacterium (the phycobiont) living in symbiotic association. A lichen thallus may be crust-like (crustose), scaly or leafy (foliose), or shrubby (fruticose), according to the species. Lichens are classified on the basis of the fungal partner; most belong to the Ascomycotina. Specialized asexual reproductive structures may be produced (see e.g. SOREDIUM and ISIDIUM). Many lichens are extremely sensitive to atmospheric pollution and have been used as pollution indicators.

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lichen

lichen A type of composite organism, which consists of a fungus (the mycobiont) and an alga or cyanobacterium (the phycobiont) living in symbiotic association. A lichen thallus may be crustlike (crustose), scaly or leafy (foliose), or shrubby (fruticose), according to the species. Lichens are classified on the basis of the fungal partner; most belong to the Ascomycotina. Specialized asexual reproductive structures may be produced. Many lichens are extremely sensitive to atmospheric pollution and have been used as pollution indicators.

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lichen

li·chen / ˈlīkən/ • n. 1. a simple slow-growing plant that typically forms a low crustlike, leaflike, or branching growth on rocks, walls, and trees. 2. [usu. with adj.] a skin disease in which small pimples or bumps occur close together. DERIVATIVES: li·chened adj. (in sense 1) li·chen·ol·o·gy / ˌlīkəˈnäləjē/ n. (in sense 1) li·chen·ous / -nəs/ adj. (in sense 2).

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lichen

lichen Plant consisting of a fungus in which microscopic (usually single-celled) algae are embedded. The fungus and its algae form a symbiotic association in which the fungus contributes support, water and minerals, while the algae contribute food produced by photosynthesis. See also symbiosis

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lichen

lichen XVIII. — L. līchēn — Gr. leikhēn.

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lichen

lichenagin, akin, begin, Berlin, bin, Boleyn, Bryn, chin, chin-chin, Corinne, din, fin, Finn, Flynn, gaijin, gin, Glyn, grin, Gwyn, herein, Ho Chi Minh, in, inn, Jin, jinn, kin, Kweilin, linn, Lynn, mandolin, mandoline, Min, no-win, pin, Pinyin, quin, shin, sin, skin, spin, therein, thin, Tientsin, tin, Tonkin, Turin, twin, underpin, Vietminh, violin, wherein, whin, whipper-in, win, within, Wynne, yin •weigh-in • lutein • lie-in • Samhain •Bowen, Cohen, Owen, throw-in •heroin, heroine •benzoin •bruin, ruin, shoo-in •Bedouin • Islwyn •genuine, Menuhin •cabin, Scriabin •Portakabin • sin bin • swingbin •bobbin, dobbin, robin •haemoglobin (US hemoglobin) •Reuben • dubbin • dustbin • Jacobin •kitchen, lichen •Cochin • urchin

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