Studying harbour seals in Oregon, USA

This 1 June 2015 video from the USA is called Harbor seals in Waldport, Oregon.

From PLOS:

Mapping Oregon coast harbor seal movements using wearable devices

July 31, 2019

Wearable devices fitted to harbor seals reveal their movements around the Oregon coast, for a population that has been increasing following the implementation of marine reserves and protection acts. The study publishes July 31, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Sheanna Steingass from Oregon State University, USA, and colleagues.

Approximately 10,000-12,000 harbor seals, Phoca vitulina richardii, make the Oregon coast their home year-round — but there’s little data on these seal populations. The authors of the present study investigated the ranges and habitats of these seals.

Steingass and colleagues fitted external satellite transmitters to 24 adult harbor seals from Alsea Bay and Netarts Bay in Oregon between September 2014 and April 2015. They collected location data every other month (in order to extend battery life) to evaluate and model the seals’ movements, calculating each seal’s home range (the area within which they spent 95 percent of their time) and core area (the smaller area where they were especially likely to stay). They also examined how seals used specific habitat and how frequently the seals spent time in five newly-established Oregon marine reserves.

The authors found the average home range for these seals was approximately 364 km2, though individual seals’ home ranges varied greatly. The average calculated core area for seals encompassed on average 29.41 km2, though this also varied greatly.

Seals spent approximately 50 percent of their time in rivers, estuaries and bays, and were in the water (versus dry land) about 70 percent of the time. While they generally stayed close to the shore, when they did make open ocean trips, these lasted an average of around 22 hours. The seals in this study tended to use the marine reserve areas within their range only rarely, visiting them less than 2 percent of the time — the authors suspect this is due to the reserves’ specific habitats.

As the first major documentation of space use of Oregon coast harbor seals in the last 30 years, this study enables further hypotheses and modelling of harbor seals in a future where marine areas are subject to frequent change.

The authors add: “Satellite tracking reveals at-sea habitat use for the first time for Pacific harbor seals in Oregon. Results from 24 seals demonstrate individual differences in behavior, with some study animals ranging hundreds of miles and few spending time within Oregon’s marine reserves.”

Wild bees, forest fires in Oregon, USA

This 2014 video from the USA says about itself:

Mason Bees Micro Documentary

Dave Hunter gets us started in this video about Mason Bees. Famous for using little bits of mud in tubes to store their eggs, Dave tells us about how Mason Bees compare to Honey Bees. He covers both the male and female bee habits, complete with mating.

Dave shows us the cocoon for leaf cutter bees too.

Dave talks about a variety of different sorts of tubes for the Mason Bees to lay their eggs in. Soemtimes reeds, sometimes straw size cardboard tubes. Dave has some experiments going with corrugated cardboard. Mason Bees eat pollen and nectar. And they are pretty picky about what sort of flower is their food source. So they come out just in time for the blooming of their favorite foods, mate, lay eggs and die in a short span of time.

Jen Davis, in Portland, Oregon shares with us how she manages her Mason Bees. She wants to help the Mason Bees reproduce quickly. So she puts out lots of straws for the bees and checks for possible problems. She keeps the cocoons in her refrigerator until the time is right to bring them out.

Dave helps us understand the difference between Honey Bees and Mason Bees. My philosophy is that Honey Bees will efficiently process each flower. While Mason Bees will haphazardly pop from flower to flower without completely “processing” any one flower. The upside of this is that one mason bee will pollinate 100 time more flowers than a honey bee.

From Oregon State University in the USA:

Wild bees flock to forested areas affected by severe fire

April 3, 2019

A groundbreaking two-year study in southern Oregon found greater abundance and diversity of wild bees in areas that experienced moderate and severe forest fires compared to areas with low-severity fires.

The study, published today in the journal Ecosphere by researchers in the Oregon State University College of Forestry, is the first to demonstrate that wildfire severity is a strong predictor of bee diversity in mixed-conifer forest.

Bees are the most important among the Earth’s pollinators, which combine for an estimated $100 billion in global economic impact each year. Oregon is home to more than 500 species of native bees.

Animal pollinators enhance the reproduction of nearly 90 percent of the Earth’s flowering plants, including many food crops.

The pollinators are an essential component of insect and plant biodiversity. Bees are the standard bearer because they’re usually present in the greatest numbers and because they’re the only pollinator group that feeds exclusively on nectar and pollen their entire life.

Scientists led by OSU forest wildlife ecologist Jim Rivers in 2016 began trapping bees at 43 sites in forests burned by the 2013 Douglas Complex fire that scorched nearly 50,000 acres north of Grants Pass.

They collected bees with blue-vane traps, which attract the insects by reflecting ultraviolet light, and used satellite imagery to determine fire severity.

“Twenty times more individuals and 11 times more species were captured in areas that experienced high fire severity relative to areas with the lowest fire severity,” said Sara M. Galbraith, a postdoctoral researcher in the College of Forestry. “We detected a large number of bees in recently burned forest patches. The bees represented five families and a large subset of Oregon’s wild bee species.”

At low-severity sites, flames were mostly confined to low-growing vegetation.

“If you weren’t looking for the markers of fire, in the low-severity spots you wouldn’t know that they had burned,” Galbraith said. “The canopy is more closed, and there wasn’t a lot of visible evidence of fire except for blackened areas on the tree trunks.”

In contrast, some of the high-severity sites had a completely open canopy.

“There were many more flowering plants in the understory because the light limitation was gone,” she said. “The flowering plants and another critical habitat component for maintaining bee populations -boring insect exit holes used by cavity-nesting bees — both increased with fire severity.”

And the two most abundant genera among the trapped bees, Bombus (bumblebee species) and Halictus (sweat bee species), each responded positively to high fire severity despite having different foraging ranges.

“This research adds to the evidence that there is high biodiversity in early seral forests — the beginning stages of forest development — and moving forward, the amount and location of this habitat could have an impact on services like pollination in the landscape overall,” she said. “Half of Oregon is forested, yet we know very little about bees in forests, especially managed conifer forests. With this fundamental information, we can begin to understand the best management actions that can promote pollinator populations within managed forests.”

Previous studies primarily just considered, “did it burn or didn’t it burn?'” Galbraith said.

“Our study took into account the mosaic of habitats that you find after fires in many regions of the world,” she said. “We found that burn severity is really useful for predicting where the bee habitat will be after a fire. It makes sense that some organisms would have evolved to do well after severe burning in this fire-adapted landscape.”

The Bureau of Land Management and the College of Forestry supported this research.

Sea anemones, new research

This 2016 video from the USA says about itself:

There are many scientific studies that apply traditional approaches to ecological, physiological, and molecular research questions. However, these studies largely test these questions at only a single level of the biological hierarchy (microscopic to macroscopic). The Systems Science in Marine Biology (SSiMBio) group at Oregon State University believes that a broader, systems view is needed in order to make progress as it provides a powerful framework for understanding how the processes occurring at some biological levels lead to predictable outcomes at other levels. Our group is developing the temperate symbiotic sea anemone Anthopleura elegantissima as a model system for this systems biology approach. This video encapsulates the meaning and goals of our group by showing many different aspects of this system on many biological levels.

From the Institut Pasteur in France:

The sea anemone, an animal that hides its complexity well

July 9, 2018

Despite its apparent simplicity — a tube-like body topped with tentacles -, the sea anemone is actually a highly complex creature. Scientists from the Institut Pasteur, in collaboration with the CNRS, have just discovered over a hundred different cell types in this small marine invertebrate as well as incredible neuronal diversity. This surprising complexity was revealed when the researchers built a real cell atlas of the animal. Their findings, which will add to discussions on how cells have diversified and developed into organs during evolution, have been published in the journal Cell.

The sea anemone Nematostella vectensis provides a perfect model for researchers — apart from its stinging tentacles perhaps. It is a small marine invertebrate that is easy to keep in the laboratory and whose genome is simple enough to study its workings and close enough to that of humans for conclusions to be drawn. “When the sea anemone genome was sequenced in 2007, scientists discovered that it was very similar to the human genome, both in terms of the number of genes (roughly 20,000) and its organization, explains Heather Marlow, a specialist in developmental biology in the (Epi)genomics of Animal Development Unit at the Institut Pasteur and the main author of this study. These similarities make the sea anemone an ideal model for studying the animal genome and understanding interactions existing between genes.” It also has another advantage — its strategic position in the tree of life. The cnidaria branch that anemones belong to separated from the bilateria branch, in other words from most other animals, including humans, over 600 million years ago. “The anemone can therefore also help us to understand the origin and evolution of the multiple cell types making up the bodies and organs of animals, and particularly their nervous systems”, sums up Heather Marlow.

To try and understand a little more about sea anemones — and consequently about the whole animal kingdom -, Heather Marlow’s team decided to examine this cnidarian, cell by cell. Thanks to an innovative technique, the animal’s tiny cells — that measure no more than 1 micron in diameter — were isolated one by one, and their RNA analyzed. As although chromosomal DNA contains all genes, RNA shows those that are active. “The development of genome approaches at single-cell level can be used to accurately list the different cell types and also identify the genes responsible for the function of each of these cells”, explains Heather Marlow. In total, and unexpectedly, over a hundred different cell types were identified, grouped into eight main cell families (muscle, digestive, neuronal, epidermal, etc.). And one of the greatest surprises of this research concerns the nervous system. Close to thirty different types of neurons — peptidergic, glutamatergic or even insulinergic — were identified, revealing a relatively complex nervous and sensory system.

This research should therefore help evolution specialists to establish the common ancestor of cnidaria (anemones) on the one hand and bilateria (humans) on the other. Undoubtedly this ancestor already had some level of cell complexity. In addition, even though the sea anemone appears to be very different from us, it reveals the fundamental rules that today enable its cells, and our own, to perform so many different functions. “The cell is the basic element making up living beings.” By defining how the information coded by the genome determines the identity of each cell, we hope to uncover the mechanisms conserved by all animals that are essential for their development and homeostasis”, concludes Heather Marlow.

Beavers save salmon from climate change

This video from the USA says about itself:

26 March 2013

Presenter Dr. Jimmy Taylor shares information about Oregon‘s state animal – the beaver – and how we benefit from their activity. Taylor is a supervisory research wildlife biologist and field station leader for the National Wildlife Research Center in Corvallis, Oregon. His research project focuses on understanding human-wildlife conflicts and improving management strategies to reduce damage by forest and aquatic mammals, with an emphasis on non-lethal tools and techniques.

North America’s largest rodent, the beaver, was once the most widely distributed mammal but virtually trapped to extinction in the early 1800’s for its pelt. A decline in demand for its fur and proper wildlife management helped beaver to become reestablished in much of their former range. While beaver foraging and building activities can cause flooding, damaging private property; beaver ponds and dams are also good for Oregon’s native fish and other wildlife. Beaver activities can also benefit private landowners by controlling downstream flooding and creating wetlands which improve water quality and facilitate ground water recharge. If managed correctly, conflict with beaver can be minimized.


Alteration of stream temperature by natural and artificial beaver dams

May 17, 2017


Beavers are an integral component of hydrologic, geomorphic, and biotic processes within North American stream systems, and their propensity to build dams alters stream and riparian structure and function[s] to the benefit of many aquatic and terrestrial species.

Recognizing this, beaver relocation efforts and/or application of structures designed to mimic the function of beaver dams are increasingly being utilized as effective and cost-efficient stream and riparian restoration approaches. Despite these verities, the notion that beaver dams negatively impact stream habitat remains common, specifically the assumption that beaver dams increase stream temperatures during summer to the detriment of sensitive biota such as salmonids.

In this study, we tracked beaver dam distributions and monitored water temperature throughout 34 km of stream for an eight-year period between 2007 and 2014. During this time the number of natural beaver dams within the study area increased by an order of magnitude, and an additional 4 km of stream were subject to a restoration manipulation that included installing a high-density of Beaver Dam Analog (BDA) structures designed to mimic the function of natural beaver dams.

Our observations reveal several mechanisms by which beaver dam development may influence stream temperature regimes; including longitudinal buffering of diel summer temperature extrema at the reach scale due to increased surface water storage, and creation of cool—water channel scale temperature refugia through enhanced groundwater—surface water connectivity. Our results suggest that creation of natural and/or artificial beaver dams could be used to mitigate the impact of human induced thermal degradation that may threaten sensitive species.

In this way, beavers save sensitive species like salmon, which cannot live in warm water.

Interviewed by Dutch daily De Volkskrant on this today, Belgian Antwerp University beaver expert Kristijn Swinnen thinks that the European relatives of American beavers may in similar ways benefit European relatives of American salmon and other species threatened by climate change. European beavers came back in the Netherlands only recently after having been exterminated there in the nineteenth century.

Ancient bed bug discovery in Oregon, USA

This video from the USA says about itself:

4 April 2017

Bedbugs have been making lives of other creatures miserable for a long time – scientists report that they have found the earliest known remains of bed bug relatives in a cave in southern Oregon.

From the Entomological Society of America:

Oldest remains of insects from bed bug genus found in Oregon

Specimens from genus Cimex date to nearly 11,000 years ago

April 4, 2017

Summary: A cave in Oregon that is the site of some the oldest preserved evidence of human activity in North America was also once home to not-too-distant cousins of the common bed bug. Archaeologists describe remains found in caves near Paisley, Ore., that represent the oldest specimens of insects from the genus Cimex ever found, ranging between 5,100 and 11,000 years old.

A cave in southern Oregon that is the site of some the oldest preserved evidence of human activity in North America was also once home to not-too-distant cousins of the common bed bug.

In research to be published next week in the Entomological Society of America’s Journal of Medical Entomology, a pair of archaeologists describe remains found in caves near Paisley, Oregon, that represent the oldest specimens of insects from the genus Cimex ever found, ranging between 5,100 and 11,000 years old.

The remains were identified as relatives of the bed bug, Cimex lectularius, but they were “not the bed bug we all know and love from hotel rooms,” says Martin E. Adams of Paleoinsect Research and co-author on the study with Dennis L. Jenkins of the Museum of Natural and Cultural History at the University of Oregon. The species in the Paisley Five Mile Point Caves (Cimex pilosellus, Cimex latipennis, and Cimex antennatus) are all parasites of bats.

Previously, the oldest remains of “cimicids” ever found were just 3,500 years old, found in Egypt in 1999, meaning the remains found at the Paisley Caves are the oldest Cimex specimens by a wide margin, and they raise some interesting questions for researchers about how cimicids have interacted (or not) with humans in the past.

Cimex lectularius and Cimex hemipterus are the two bed bug species that are known to parasitize humans, widely believed to have adapted to that role thousands of years ago when humans shared caves with bats in Europe, Asia, and Africa. The species found in the Oregon caves, however, never made that jump, and Adams says it’s unclear why not.

“Were the cimicid populations too small to establish themselves outside the caves, or were the host populations too small?” Adams says. “Given that Paisley Caves was only a seasonal occupation area for human hunter-gatherers, did the humans move around too much, or were the bugs not able to withstand the environment outside the caves for very long? Or, were there other constraints involved? I’m working on these last few archaeological questions right now.”

The identification of the three Cimex species may also offer some clues to climactic trends during the eras they were dated to, Adams says. Cimex antennatus, for instance, tends to favor the warmer climates of California and Nevada. “The presence of warm-tolerant cimicids in the caves, such as Cimex antennatus, may suggest that climatic conditions at Paisley Caves 5,100 years ago were similar to what Cimex antennatus enjoys today in its current range.”

Lichens, indicators of forest health

This video from the USA says about itself:

Climate Change and the Mosses and Lichens in the Columbia River Gorge

9 June 2011

A short look at the mosses and lichens in the gorge and the effects climate change may have on them. This video was created by the Gifford Pinchot Task Force for the Multnomah County climate change short films series, thanks for viewing!

From Science News in the USA:

Lichens are an early warning system for forest health

Scientists tap symbiotic lichens as sentinels of air quality, and now, climate problems

By Amy McDermott

5:30am, November 15, 2016

View the slideshow

Ecologist Linda Geiser works her way through thick undergrowth on the steep hills of the Bull Run Watershed just outside of Portland, Ore. Every step in her heavy boots is deliberate. It would be easy to break an ankle here, or worse. A dense sea of ferns and berry bushes hides deep pits and sharp fallen branches.

This treacherous slope is a U.S. Forest Service 
field site, one of many in the United States, recognizable by its bright orange flagging fluttering from the trees. Geiser has patrolled terrain like this for 30 years. As manager of the Forest Service’s 
air-quality program, she’s tasked with monitoring pollution. So she has come here, not to check sophisticated equipment, but to find lichens.

Fringed and fuzzy, or as slick as a coat of paint, lichens are mosaics of fungi partnered with algae or cyanobacteria that speckle tree bark and dangle from the canopy (SN: 11/7/09, p. 16). In those precarious perches, lichens absorb their food from fog, wind and rain. With no roots but very absorbent tissue, lichens are exquisitely vulnerable to gases released from burning fossil fuels and other 
pollutants carried by the wind and rain. That sensitivity makes lichens powerful sentinels of forest health.

“Where there is pollution, there is a predictable effect on lichens,” Geiser says. Rare and delicate lichen species that are highly specialized to their habitat are some of the first to die out as air quality falls. Less-sensitive, generalist lichens hang on longer and, in some cases, even survive and expand. Both can signal problems to come.

In the presence of high levels of excess nitrogen, moderately sensitive wolf lichens (Letharia vulpine, left) languish while candleflame lichens (Candelaria pacifica, right) thrive.

Jason Hollinger/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0); J-DAR/MUSHROOM OBSERVER (CC BY-SA 3.0)
A 2014 study linked an abundance of the nitrogen-loving lichen Candelaria pacifica in Yosemite National Park with hot spots of excess nitrogen blown over from the sprawling farmlands of 
California’s Central Valley. Nitrogen becomes a pollutant at very high concentrations. A 2015 study in Washington State tied an area of heavy metal pollution, detected in lichen tissues in the Colville National Forest, to a zinc and lead smelter just across the border with Canada.

Pollution builds up inside lichen tissues in proportion to its concentration in the wider environment. Anything poisoning lichens is also accumulating more broadly in the forest. Lichens and other supersensitive species begin to shift first, but the same contaminants may hit hardier plants and animals next.

That’s why Geiser is hiking in the shadow of Mount Hood. She jots down the name and abundance of every lichen species she finds at Bull Run to track changes in the lichen census since the last survey of this plot, 10 years ago. Geiser carries a large, clear bag in her pack and fills it with a seafoam green lichen called Platismatia glauca. In a lab at the University of Minnesota, researchers will dissolve the P. glauca in acid to measure levels of 24 air pollutants. Other tests measure sulfur, nitrogen and mercury.

The Forest Service has used lichens to track air quality since the 1980s. What began as a few pilot studies has expanded into a national program, with thousands of lichen-monitoring plots across the country. The information collected at those sites is cataloged in a database, used by the Forest 
Service to track changes in the lichen landscape. Until now, that database has not been publicly available. But in 2017, it will be released — along with an atlas of lichen distributions nationwide — so anyone can track this early warning system.

The timing is good, because while these fungal mélanges have been counted on as air monitors for decades, they have now also begun to show their worth as sentinels of climate change in the Lower 48 states and, increasingly, in the Arctic.

Environmental watchdogs

Far from the rain-drenched forests of the Pacific Northwest, on the gray streets of 1860s Paris, a botanist named William Nylander noticed a peculiar pattern. More lichen species grew in the oasis of the Luxembourg Garden than elsewhere in the city. The park was less polluted than the rest of Paris. Nylander inferred a connection: Better air quality meant higher lichen diversity.

Proof that lichens respond to air quality came about a century later. Studies in the 1950s found that lichen diversity fell as sulfur dioxide rose. In 1958, botanist Erik Skye found that airborne sulfur dioxide, emitted from a Swedish oil works, killed lichens surrounding the factory. The sulfur 
dioxide acidified the lichens’ cells, disrupting metabolism and photosynthesis. Other pollutants, like nitrogen dioxide, can also kill some lichen species by overfertilizing them. Without protective structures common in plants, such as a waxy cuticle and pores that can close to keep out unwanted substances, lichens are especially vulnerable to environmental vagaries.

By the 1980s, most large cities in Central Europe monitored lichens to track air quality, says biologist Christoph Scheidegger of the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research in Birmensdorf. What’s appealing, he says, is the tight relationship between lichen diversity and pollution levels. When the number of sensitive lichen species goes down, it reveals areas where pollution levels are going up.

In the United States, lichens help the Forest Service and National Park Service set pollution targets and identify areas where those targets are being exceeded. Those agencies don’t have the authority to set pollution laws. Instead, they make recommendations to state governments and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the amount of pollution an ecosystem can withstand before falling into decline.

To figure out how much pollution is too much, government scientists look to lichens, as well as alpine plants, trees, grasses and other parts of the ecosystem, says ecologist Tamara Blett of the National Park Service, which also monitors air quality. Many field studies show that lichens “start to disappear at a lower amount of air pollution than other species,” Blett says. Other organisms “aren’t affected until the pollution is higher.”

That means lichens set the high bar for pollution standards. Protect them, and everything else is safe. Once pollution thresholds are established, U.S. scientists can use lichens to identify hot spots that exceed recommended limits. It works like this: Scientists like Geiser hike into forest field sites to collect lichen tissues and survey the number and abundance of lichen species. In the lab, the tissues are analyzed for concentrations of nitrogen, sulfur and other potential pollutants. From the results, ecologists make a map that reveals “red zones,” “orange zones” and “green zones,” where pollution thresholds are met or exceeded across the landscape, Blett says.

Fluffy, green wolf lichen (Letharia vulpina) collected in 2011 along a major road in California’s Sierra Nevada had nitrogen levels exceeding recommended pollution limits. In Wyoming’s Wind River Range, an area plagued by air pollution, nitrogen concentrations were twice as high in lichens growing near natural gas drilling operations as those growing farthest away, researchers reported in 2013; concentrations decreased exponentially with distance from drilling sites.

Machines and nature

The lichens are “like teeny living instruments,” Blett says. Studying them is an order of magnitude cheaper than installing human-made air-quality monitors. Each lichen plot costs $150 to $500, says Forest Service lichenologist Sarah Jovan, who leads the lichen program with Geiser.

Measuring pollutants directly, using a human-made air-quality monitor, would cost $3,000 to $20,000 a year, Jovan says, depending on the instrument and pollutants measured. “It’s an incredible savings,” she says.

Plus, Geiser adds, lichens can provide evidence of ecological harm, while chemical and physical methods tell only what’s in the air or precipitation. “They don’t tell you if that level is harmful to living things.”

While lichens have a huge cost advantage, they also have limitations as indicators. In general, Jovan says, the content of lichen tissues today points to pollution over the last six to 12 months. They don’t offer the same time frame precision as pricier instruments.

Agencies navigate these pros and cons by using lichens in combination with other monitors. In places where the source of pollution isn’t clear, it doesn’t make sense to install expensive instruments across the landscape.

Instead, lichen studies are a first step to identify pollution hot spots, Blett and Jovan explain. Then more expensive monitors are installed at heavily polluted sites. “Using the two approaches together creates incredible efficiency,” Jovan says, “and cost savings.”

When the EPA and the Forest Service set out to track regional environmental health in the early 1990s, they called on lichenologist Bruce McCune, of Oregon State University in Corvallis. The agencies asked McCune to design pilot studies using lichens to assess air pollution. That early work grew into the same lichen census that brought Geiser to Bull Run.

The Forest Service has almost 25 years of lichen data from more than 6,000 sites nationwide. “It’s unprecedented to have this scale of information,” says Jovan, who created the atlas over the last decade. “This is the first time all of the data we’ve ever had has come together.” Federal 
agencies including the Forest Service, the Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Land Management are all interested in lichens as environmental sentinels, she says. “Now all of a sudden, everyone and their mom wants to use lichens.”

When these data are released publicly in 2017, she says, they will set a baseline for lichen distributions nationwide. In 10 years, or in 50, scientists will be able to track large-scale changes over time.

Climate ups and downs

Climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions presents its own kind of air-quality problem. And lichens may help keep an eye out for climate changes, too.

Small differences in temperature and moisture mean big changes in the number and diversity of lichens in the landscape. Lichen diversity in 
Sweden and Alaska dropped with rising temperature, and lichens were more sensitive to change than vascular plants, according to a study published in 2012.

Earlier work in western Europe found that drought-tolerant lichens become more common in response to warming, while acid-loving species decline. In the Netherlands, Hyperphyscia adglutinata increased in abundance substantially from 1995 to 2001. During the same period, Lecanora conizaeoides declined by more than 60 percent.

By tracking which species increase or decrease with changing temperature and rainfall, ecologists are learning to read the climate story lichens are telling. The idea, Geiser says, is to use lichens to understand the on-the-ground realities of climate change.

The value of the lichens data trove will only increase with time, McCune says. Today, decades of lichen data offer a national snapshot that “contains priceless information on air quality and a basis for comparison in the future,” he says. “Can you imagine 50 years from now,” when “we’ve got thousands of plots in the U.S. with data from way back in 2000 or something like that? It’s going to be fantastic to see the difference between 2050 and 2000.”

In the meantime, the lichens of the Northwest that Geiser walks among will keep growing and changing in step with the changing planet. They’ll breathe in the mountain air and soak up water as it drips down the trees. These and other lichens will stand as a beacon of what’s to come.