An early warning for forest health

Lichens have been studied as an early warning system for forest health by the United States Forest Service since the 1980s. Lichens are sensitive to pollution as they readily absorb pollutants from the air as a function of the concentration of pollutants in the air. Therefore by tracking the abundance of lichen species over time and tracking the amount of pollutants in their tissues can give an indication of what might happen next to plant and animal species. By studying pollutant concentrations in lichens the Forest Service can make recommendations on how much pollution is too much by noting when it impacts lichens, something that pollution motoring machines cannot necessarily do.  The Forest Service has about 6,000 designated “lichen monitoring” sites where data has been collected over the past 25 years. This data, until now has not been available to the public. In 2017, a database, containing the baseline for lichen species at each of the 6,000 sites will be available. Scientists are excited to use this data to study climate change in the coming 10 or 50 years.



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