Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Take a likin' to a lichen

One of the types of organisms that can survive well in the harsh Arctic climate is lichen. There is quite a lot of it growing all around, on rocks, trees, and just about anything sitting still. A lot of the students on the program have enjoyed inspecting the lichen close up. Ezra and Manny chose to study it for their independent project.

Manny and Ezra measured the abundance and diversity of lichen growing on different sizes of rocks as you go up in elevation on Saana. They want to know how the climate difference with elevation influences lichen communities, but also whether the size of their habitat changes how elevation influences the communities. They hiked up the trail at Saana, and stopped at regular intervals to investigate the lichen on rocks. At each point, they randomly chose 3 small, medium, and large rocks.
Manny measuring the size category of a lichen-covered rock.
Ezra and Manny photographed the community growing on the rock within a 25 cm x 25 cm grid. Back at the station, they are using the images to measure the percent of the area covered by different types of lichen. It is very difficult to identify many lichens to species, often requiring molecular sequencing of the DNA, which is not possible in our short stay. So they are categorizing them by color and growth form to estimate diversity.
Ezra photographing the lichen community inside the grid.
They have completed their field work, with 10 intervals over the elevation photographed. They have a looooot of photos to sort through and count before they can determine how the communities change with elevation, and whether the size of their habitat surface matters over elevation.

When their results are complete, they plan to communicate the diversity of these communities through an art installation, where they will create a room-sized replica of Saana, with rocks and water and lichen, so that the viewer can see, hear, and feel like they are standing there with us in the Arctic, learning about the lichen and their habitat.