Lichens in the museum

Spencer Goyette is a Curatorial Assistant in the Herbarium, and a Museum Interpreter in the Beaty Biodiversity Museum. He did his Masters on Lichen; a symbiotic assemblage of fungi, a photosynthetic partner (algae or cyanobacteria), and bacteria. Find out why lichen are important and how the lichen collection in the UBC Herbarium helps us understand the state of our world.

Lichens are extremely sensitive to pollution and disturbance where you find them and so I was interested in lichens because of this fragility where they exist on the edge of, you know, existence and non-existence and that certain types of pollution can really wipe them out quite quickly so they're kind of like the canaries in the coal mine for most ecosystems. If you have a forest that has lichens that means it's a pretty healthy forest, and if those lichens disappear then that means something's probably wrong. Hi my name is Spencer Goyette and I am a curatorial assistant in the Herbarium at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum and I am also an interpreter in the education and outreach department.

Lichens are a symbiotic assemblage of fungi and some sort of photosynthesizing partner, such as cyanobacteria and/or algae, and there's also other bacteria involved in the symbiosis. You've probably seen lichens in your neighbourhood growing on trees. Some of them resemble leaves, some of them are very crust-like in their appearance, and some of them look like small shrubs. The Beaty houses a quite large collection of lichens, and it's important because we need to study the biodiversity of lichens in BC and owing to BC's history, geologically and climatically, it's quite rich in lichen diversity. And so researchers for the last, you know, 100 years or so have been contributing to the lichen flora of BC, documenting what species occur here, which ones are rare, and how those species distributions are changing through time.

Presently we have two co-curators of lichens at the beady biodiversity museum Trevor Goward and Curtis Björk. Their specimen collecting and publications on lichens is foundational to lichen studies in British Columbia. They've been writing a lot about species distributions and natural history for a number of years. One of our current projects in the lichen herbarium is involving collections from Willa Noble, who was a PhD student at UBC in the 70s and 80s. She collected in the Gulf Islands and her collections of lichens were pretty foundational to later work by lichenologists to assemble a species record for the province of British Columbia.

One of the nice things about the collections that we have in the biodiversity museum is that they will last for hundreds of years and so the efforts made by these prior scientists and researchers will extend the lives of the individual specimens beyond what they would have had in nature as well as give us a better idea of what species distributions look like in the face of climate change or deforestation across the province. And so the records that we have and the specimens we have are incredibly important for answering questions that we don't have yet as well as documenting the species diversity around us which is literally beneath our feet, and in our neighbourhoods, and in the forests of British Columbia.


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