Exploring the amazing world of lichens
Exploring the amazing world of lichens Smithsonian Science How co-hosts Emmanuel Kyei-Baffour and Maggy Benson show off lichen samples with Lichenologist Manuela Dal Forno. Photo by Jennifer Renteria, Smithsonian. (Jennifer Renteria/Smithsonian)
Exploring the amazing world of lichens
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Lichens are a symbiotic relationship between algae and fungus. They have been on earth for millions of years. They live on rocks and trees. They also live in soil. They live in all different habitats on all seven continents. Lichens are all around us. But scientists are still learning about what they areand where they live. They are still learning how many different species of lichens there are.

Fungus is any group of spore-producing organisms feeding on organic matter. This matter includes molds and yeast. It includes mushrooms and toadstools. 

Algae is a simple, non-flowering plant. Algae contain chlorophyll and produce sugar. They produce it through photosynthesis, like other plants. But algae do not have true stems or roots. They do not have leaves or vascular tissue. Most other plants do have these things. Lichenization is a fungal lifestyle. Therefore the name of lichen is the name of the fungus component.

When you look at a lichen, what you’re looking at is the “house” that the fungus and algae grow together. Scientists call this house a “thallus.” When algae and fungus come together to form this house, we see a lichen. This partnership is called a symbiotic relationship. That's because it helps both the fungus and algae survive. Research has shown that lichens are not a natural biological group. This means they do not all come from a single common ancestor, lichens have many origins. Currently there are almost 20,000 species of lichenized fungi known.

In this symbiotic relationship, the fungus and algae benefit from being associated with each other. The fungus provides the house, its shelter. Also called the thallus. This shelter helps the algae survive. It survives in habitats where it would otherwise be exposed to the elements and possibly could not survive. The algae provides food for the fungus, in the form of sugar. The sugar is a byproduct of photosynthesis. That occurs within the algae.

Lichens are very important for the environment. They are an important food source for many animals. They provide nest materials for birds. They provide habitat and material for biomimicry for insects and other organisms.

Lichens are also important for humans. They provide natural dyes and perfumes They provide litmus paper and even food. Humans even use lichens as bio-indicators, organisms that help humans monitor the health of the environment. Some species of lichens are sensitive to environmental pollution. Their presence or absence can help us understand more about the health of the environment, like air quality. 

Lichens produce over one thousand different chemical compounds. Most of them unique to lichens. These compounds include acids and pigments. Some chemicals may even fluoresce under UV light, making them important components for lichen identification.

Lichens have DNA. It is used to identify lichen and compare relationships amongst and within species. DNA analysis has been an important tool for lichenologists. It helps them identify and understand the biodiversity of lichens.

Tune into the free Smithsonian Science How webcast, "What's a Lichen? How a Smithsonian Scientist Studies a Unique Symbiosis." You will meet Dr. Manuela Dal Forno. The webcast will be on Thursday, November 14. You can see it at 11 AM and 2 PM EST. There will be a live video stream and interactive polls and a Q&A. Manu will take questions about lichens and her research. Sign up and tune in here: https://naturalhistory.si.edu/education/distance-learning/what-is-lichen-symbiosis 

Get a student worksheet for the webcast. Get the teacher guide for the webcast.

Source URL: https://www.tweentribune.com/article/tween56/exploring-amazing-world-lichens/

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What do you know about lichens? Where did you learn this fact?
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COMMENTS (48)
  • EmilyB-dec1
    5/23/2019 - 08:17 a.m.

    I never heard about lichens, so this article was very interesting.

  • EvelynP-
    9/23/2019 - 02:45 p.m.


    Exploring the amazing world of linches
    Today i am going to write a summary article of ''Exploring the amazing world of linches'',
    Fungus is a group of organisms feeding on organic matter
    The fungus includes mold and yeast. Algae is a simple, non-flowering plant. Algae contain chlorophyll and produce sugar. They produce it through photosynthesis, like other plants.The lichens have DNA. It is used to identify lichen and compare relationships among and within species. DNA analysis has been an important tool for lichenologists. This was my summary article of ''Exploring the amazing world of linches".

  • SaMeL-bad
    10/17/2019 - 09:10 a.m.

    The first thing i learn about the lichens is that there a mixed breed between algae and fungus. I learn this fact in the first paragraph.

  • SoeM-bad
    10/17/2019 - 09:14 a.m.

    I finally know why there where outside because the lichens are living in outdoor life and the fact that they can live is amazing because the outside life is hard to live though.

  • HaS-bad
    10/17/2019 - 09:16 a.m.

    When you look at a lichen, what you’re looking at is the “house” that the fungus and algae grow together. Scientists call this house a “thallus.” When algae and fungus come together to form this house, we see a lichen. This partnership is called a symbiotic relationship. That's because it helps both the fungus and algae survive. Research has shown that lichens are not a natural biological group. This means they do not all come from a single common ancestor, lichens have many origins. Currently there are almost 20,000 species of lichenized fungi known

  • SarmeeL-bad
    10/17/2019 - 09:18 a.m.

    I don’t know anything about lichens but I learn that in the article that lichens are symbiotic relationship between algae and fungus.I also learned that it has been on earth for millions of year.

  • SaMeeL-bad
    10/17/2019 - 09:18 a.m.

    When you look at a lichen, what you’re looking at is the “house” that the fungus and algae grow together. Scientists call this house a “thallus.” When algae and fungus come together to form this house, we see a lichen. This partnership is called a symbiotic relationship. That's because it helps both the fungus and algae survive. Research has shown that lichens are not a natural biological group. This means they do not all come from a single common ancestor, lichens have many origins. Currently there are almost 20,000 species of lichenized fungi known.

  • DalaishaD-bad
    10/17/2019 - 09:19 a.m.

    I know that lichens are an important to the environment. I learned this fact from the text above in paragraph 6.

  • HamasarA-bad
    10/17/2019 - 09:20 a.m.

    Lichens are very important for the environment. They are an important food source for many animals. They provide nest materials for birds. They provide habitat and material for biomimicry for insects and other organisms.I learned it from this article.

  • WinYaS-bad
    10/17/2019 - 09:21 a.m.

    I know that licens are fungus and mushrooms and i Leander that fact from this story.

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