You might have gazed at the face of Half Dome or El Capitan and wondered what causes those black and colored streaks on the iconic granite faces. These are Yosemite’s lichen communities, which are made up of individual tiny organisms that have a big impact in terms of alerting scientists to climate change and air quality.
Why Are Lichens Important?
Lichens are important marker species and often indicate change or decline in a specific environmental community. The species and locations of these organisms can tell us a great deal about air quality and pollution levels in the park, which is why scientists want to know more about lichen biodiversity.
Discovering New Species
A Conservancy grant made it possible for park scientists to survey comprehensively Yosemite’s lichen populations to better understand and identify this important species. As a result of this survey, the number of known lichen species in Yosemite went from 30 to more than 600 when the project concluded. Specimens were collected and analyzed to provide insight into how lichen communities are affected by atmospheric nitrogen pollution. Because lichens are so sensitive to air quality and climate change, major distributional shifts were found to be taking place within the park.
Thanks to you, scientists have discovered new lichen communities and are gathering crucial insight to air-quality and climate-change patterns within the park.