Lichens and Bryophytes


Cayuga Nature Center   Smith Woods   Total species found
    0     2 6     2 6


Mosses and Vascular Plants share a common ancestor. Lichens are not a single organism, but a symbiotic partnership of separate fungus and alga organisms. The dominant partner is the fungus, which gives the lichen the majority of its physical characteristics. The algal partner in turn provides food for the fungus through photosynthesis. The alga can be either a “green alga” or a “blue-green alga” (which is actually cyanobacteria, and therefore part of the bacterial kingdom Monera instead of the algal kingdom Protista) but some lichens contain both. Many lichen have a remarkable ability to survive drought, freezing, high temperatures, and scarcity of key nutrients and therefore dominate under conditions too harsh for vascular plants. 

Lichens and mosses are unrelated. Lichens are fungi, while bryophytes are “primitive” (basal) plants. They do have some things in common however. They are both poikilohydric (being able to survive even without a structural mechanism to prevent their own desiccation) and photosynthetic. They both grow in places where they can get sufficient sunlight but where vascular plants have a hard time growing such as on outcrops and the bark of trees. 

Bryophytes are non-vascular plants including mosses, liverworts, and hornworts. Bryophytes can survive on rocks and bare soil because they do not depend on roots to absorb nutrients.

Bryophytes & Lichens are sensitive to air pollution and disappear as atmospheric pollution increases. Many studies have been published using these organisms (particularly lichens as they are the most susceptible) to document air pollution, although none have been done for the Cayuga Lake Basin specifically. Stricter air quality regulations have been in place for decades now, but it takes a long time for the lichen and bryophyte flora to recover.

There are lichens and bryophytes considered to be specific old-growth-forest-indicator species, but the team didn’t find many of them in Smith Woods. This is probably due to still-lingering effects of historical air pollution. Although our air quality has improved greatly, lichens and bryophytes of the Cayuga Lake Basin are still recovering from the past, and species diversity isn’t very high. One of the lichens found at Smith Woods was Peltigera praetextata. It is a lichen that has a cyanobacteria partner instead of a green alga. While that is not very unusual in and of itself, it was found in great profusion covering the bases of some old trees in Smith Woods; when found Growing as a big “apron” at the base of a tree, it’s a sign that the habitat is an old-growth forest. Scott LaGreca and his colleagues at Duke later sequenced a specimen sample, and it is of a haplotype (genetic type) previously unknown even to these experts on the genus Peltigera; they had not before seen any specimens of this species with this particular genetic signature.

Flavopunctelia soredica looks very similar to Flavoparmelia caperata but the former species was unknown in the Finger Lakes until 2003 when Bob Dirig, one of the Lichens and Bryophytes Team members, discovered it here and noted that soredica now seems to be colonizing the same habitats as caperata in some parts of upstate New York. Why? We don’t know! 


The Lichen and Bryophytes Team was led by (then) Cornell lichenologist Scott Legreca ʻ91, who was also Lead Organizer for the BioBlitz itself and three other scientist: lichenologists Robert Dirig '71, '74 and Bob Kibbee and bryologist Norm Trigoboff. Bob Dirig was a mentor of Scott LaGreca’s while he was a Cornell undergraduate, and Scott worked for Bob in the Herbarium. Scott returned to Cornell in 2011 just as Bob retired, and assumed his role in the Herbarium. Scott was absolutely thrilled to work with Bob, the man who taught him his very first lichens, during the BioBlitz, saying: “My life and career had come full circle.”