Epiphyte Teloschistes crysophthalmus
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Epiphyte Teloschistes crysophthalmus

July 3, 2012
Teloschistes crysophthalmus, a bright-orange, shrub-like epiphyte, is seen here growing on Fouquieria diguetii along the coast of Baja, Calif. Lichens are actually made up of two plants, an algae and a fungus, living in a symbiotic relationship. In desert environments, lichen will dry out completely and remain dormant until rain or dewfall provides enough moisture to make them active again. This ability allows lichens to survive some of the harshest environments on the planet. Because lichens are very sensitive to air pollution, scientists rely on them as a bioindicator species, like a natural environmental early warning system. Plant biologist Thomas Nash has spent a career studying lichens, the crusty mats of blue, green and orange often seen covering desert rocks. The Lichen Herbarium at Arizona State University is home to 90,000 specimens collected over 30 years by Nash and his colleagues. Supported by the National Science Foundation, Nash and 70 scientists from 16 countries have spent more than 14 years documenting all the lichen species found in the Sonoran Desert region. More than 40 percent of the lichens known to North America live in the Sonoran Desert and surrounding regions. The researchers recently completed volume I of the first comprehensive account of all lichen species known from the Southwest, including large parts of northwest Mexico. Volume I of "Lichen Flora of the Greater Sonoran Desert Region" covers nearly 600 species of lichen in more than 140 genera. The volume is co-edited by Nash, Bruce Ryan, Corinna Gries and Frank Bungartz. Credit: ©Frank Bungartz, Ph.D., Arizona State University Lichen Herbarium

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