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  6. Canadian Museum of Nature coordinates international field workshop for lichen experts

Canadian Museum of Nature coordinates international field workshop for lichen experts

Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature

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Troy McMullin near Resolute in Canada's High Arctic, 2017. 

Ottawa, September 4, 2019 – The intricate world of lichens will be front and centre September 5 to 10 as part of an annual international fieldwork conference near Thunder Bay, Ontario. This year’s event is coordinated by the Canadian Museum of Nature and the New York Botanical Garden with support from Ontario Parks and Lakehead University.  

About 50 lichen experts and university students from across North America will be documenting and collecting lichens in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park (about 80 km east of Thunder Bay) as part of the annual gathering known as the Tuckerman Workshop. It’s the fifth time in Canada for this event, which began in 1991. The museum is supporting this year's Tuckerman Workshop through its Beaty Centre for Species Discovery. 

“The north shore of Lake Superior is a hotspot for biodiversity, particularly lichens,” explains Dr. Troy McMullin, research scientist and lichenologist with the Canadian Museum of Nature. “No one has done a focussed survey of lichens in the region. We expect there to be a lot of interesting finds, particularly because the region is known to host species that are found as far away as the Arctic and Canada’s coastal regions.” 

There are an estimated 2,500 species of lichens in Canada. These unique organisms—part fungi and part algae and/or cyanobacteria—occupy important niches in the natural world. They are among the first colonizers of bare rock and prevent erosion by stabilizing soil. They provide food for animals, habitats for insects, have been used for traditional medicines and dyes, and can serve as monitors for air pollution.

McMullin notes that lichens “eat the air”, so the presence of specific species is an indicator of the health of the environment around them. An understanding of lichen diversity can inform scientists about the impacts of environmental change in ecosystems, especially sensitive ones such as old-growth forests.

The Tuckerman Workshop honours Edward Tuckerman, a 19th century American scientist who was the first to do significant work in describing and classifying lichens as a group of organisms distinct from plants. John Macoun, the first naturalist with the Geological Survey of Canada (the Canadian Museum of Nature’s predecessor) was known to send Tuckerman the lichens he collected for identification.

McMullin is delighted to be hosting this year’s workshop, which has attracted participants from universities, botanical gardens and research institutions across Canada and the United States. The workshop is an important fixture on the annual calendar for lichenologists, which was created out of concern that the knowledge, skills and trade of field lichenology was disappearing.

“Thirty years ago, it was being taught less and less in universities,” explains McMullin, who is enthusiastic about this year’s turnout. It will be a busy five days. “We’ll head into the field in the morning, explore different environments in the park, and collect material that will be identified in the park’s lodge where we’ve set up microscopes and a laboratory space.”

McMullin worked with staff at the herbarium of Thunder Bay’s Lakehead University to create the lab setting where delegates can share their day’s finds and tease out the fine details about the lichens they have found. “After a day in the field, the lodge offers a great environment to work on the material, discuss interesting things we’ve discovered, share ideas for publications, and interact with the students.”

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[Click here to see our Nature Scoop video of Troy McMullin collecting lichens in Nova Scotia.]

Information for media:
Dan Smythe
Media Relations
Canadian Museum of Nature
613.566.4781; 613.698.9253 (cell)
dsmythe@nature.ca

About the Canadian Museum of Nature
Saving the world through evidence, knowledge and inspiration! The Canadian Museum of Nature is Canada's national museum of natural history and natural sciences. The museum provides evidence-based insights, inspiring experiences and meaningful engagement with nature's past, present and future. It achieves this through scientific research, a national collection of 14.6-million-specimens, education programs, signature and travelling exhibitions, and a dynamic web site, nature.ca. The museum houses the National Herbarium of Canada, which includes about 150,000 specimens of lichens.