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14 - Environmental role of lichens

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 September 2012

M. R. D. Seaward
Affiliation:
Professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Science University of Bradford Bradford BD7 1DP UK
Thomas H. Nash, III
Affiliation:
Arizona State University
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Summary

Although earlier literatures provided an insight into the uniqueness of lichens, it gave little hint of the major role these apparently insignificant organisms play in the shaping of the physical and biological environment of our planet and their importance in maintaining its equilibrium. Their role as biological weathering agents in the development of soils, for example, was formerly considered in a geological context only, but recent research has shown that these organisms are capable of biodeteriorating stone substrates within a relatively short timescale. Information is now available to demonstrate that lichens can often contribute substantial biomass and support a high biodiversity of micro- and macroorganisms, creating complex food webs and adding significantly to energy flow (Chapter 10) and mineral cycling (Chapter 12).

The disappearance of lichens, due to many aspects of human interference in the natural world, has therefore led inexorably to environmental impoverishment. Lichens are natural sensors of our changing environment: the sensitivity of particular lichen species and assemblages to a very broad spectrum of environmental conditions, both natural and unnatural, is widely appreciated. Lichens are therefore used increasingly in evaluating threatened habitats, in environmental impact assessments, and in monitoring environmental perturbations, particularly those resulting from a disturbingly large and growing number of chemical pollutants (Chapter 15). Nevertheless, lichens undoubtedly represent one of the most successful forms of symbiosis in nature.

Type
Chapter
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Lichen Biology , pp. 274 - 298
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2008

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  • Environmental role of lichens
    • By M. R. D. Seaward, Professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Science University of Bradford Bradford BD7 1DP UK
  • Edited by Thomas H. Nash, III, Arizona State University
  • Book: Lichen Biology
  • Online publication: 05 September 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511790478.015
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  • Environmental role of lichens
    • By M. R. D. Seaward, Professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Science University of Bradford Bradford BD7 1DP UK
  • Edited by Thomas H. Nash, III, Arizona State University
  • Book: Lichen Biology
  • Online publication: 05 September 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511790478.015
Available formats
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Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

  • Environmental role of lichens
    • By M. R. D. Seaward, Professor, Department of Geography and Environmental Science University of Bradford Bradford BD7 1DP UK
  • Edited by Thomas H. Nash, III, Arizona State University
  • Book: Lichen Biology
  • Online publication: 05 September 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511790478.015
Available formats
×