Academic journal article Science and Children

Lichen Is Losing to Wildfire

Academic journal article Science and Children

Lichen Is Losing to Wildfire

Article excerpt

As increasingly hot and severe wildfires scorch the West, some lichen communities integral to conifer forests aren't returning, even years after the flames have been extinguished, according to a recent study.

Lichen, an often overlooked organism that forms fuzzy, leaf-like layers over tree bark and rocks, is an unsung hero in forest ecosystems. It provides food for deer, caribou, and elk and is sometimes the only food source for flying squirrels, which are key prey for threatened spotted owls. Birds and insects use it to eat and nest. An important contributor to the nutrient cycle, it also helps fix nitrogen in forest soils.

For the study, researchers sampled lichen communities in about 100 study plots across California's Sierra Nevada region. Five wildfires had burned, at varying levels of severity, in and around the plots between four and 16 years before the study's sampling. The results show that lichen communities were largely unaffected by low-severity fires. This suggests that prescribed fires and natural wildfires under moderate weather and fuels conditions are compatible with lichen diversity. …

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