Ski field jaunt reveals rare lichen

Interesting and useful observations of life’s diversity can be made pretty much anywhere, anytime, and by anyone.

Last January, I joined the Wellington Botanical Society’s exploration of the area around Nelson Lakes. One of our day trips was to the Rainbow Ski Field. Some of us clambered up to the main ridge.  Most of us were looking for alpine species in flower.

The ridge above the Rainbow Ski Field, looking towards Mount McRae. Photo © Leon Perrie.

The ridge above the Rainbow Ski Field, looking towards Mount McRae. Photo © Leon Perrie.

One of the plants that caught my eye was a lichen. I was struck by the way it snaked across the rocks. These rocks burn in the summer sun, but are covered in snow during winter. Yet, this lichen was common in places.

The lichen Xanthoparmelia malcolmii. Photo © Leon Perrie.

The lichen Xanthoparmelia malcolmii. Photo © Leon Perrie.

My photographic observation in the biodiversity recording website NatureWatch NZ.

I know little about identifying lichens (but I’m slowly learning). But I do know that lichens are a composite organism, being a partnership between a fungus and an alga or a photosynthetic bacterium. The fungus provides shelter; the other partner provides food, via photosynthesis. Lichens can be incredibly hardy.

More on lichens from the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network, including links to identification resources.

Lichen expert Allison Knight was also on the trip. She told me the lichen belonged to the genus Xanthoparmelia. She collected a specimen from nearby, and it has now been identified by Australian lichen expert Jack Elix as Xanthoparmelia malcolmii.  (My photos are very likely that species.)

That makes it an interesting find because Xanthoparmelia malcolmii was previously only known from Canterbury. It has a conservation ranking of Data Deficient, which is shorthand for saying ‘we know so little about this species that we cannot give it a conservation ranking’. Our observation will go some way to resolving that lack of data.

The conservation assessment of New Zealand’s lichens.

The lichen Xanthoparmelia malcolmii. The discs are its reproductive structures, which make spores. Photo © Leon Perrie.

The lichen Xanthoparmelia malcolmii. The small discs are its reproductive structures, which make spores. Photo © Leon Perrie.

Appropriately, Bill Malcolm was also on this day trip. Xanthoparmelia malcolmii is named after him!

Te Papa blog post by Lara Shepherd about some of the other amazing plants from this area, particularly those that grow in screes.

So, if you see something interesting or different, take a photo and upload it to the biodiversity recording website NatureWatch NZ.

  • You’ll be helping to document New Zealand’s plants, fungi, animals, and other organisms.
  • Someone will likely help you with an identification.
  • And there’s always the possibility you’ll find something new or uncommon, even in the unlikeliest places such as a popular ski field.

The biodiversity recording website NatureWatch NZ.

For the next few months, Te Papa is running special projects in conjunction with the exhibition DeCLASSIFIED! Nature’s secrets exposed at Te Papa. Upload a picture of a spider or fern to the Spiders with Te Papa and Ferns with Te Papa projects, and we’ll help you with the identification and your photo could feature in the exhibition.

Instructions on how to participate in the Spiders with Te Papa and Ferns with Te Papa projects.

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