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LICHEN USE BY WILDLIFE IN NORTH AMERICA by Stephen Sharnoff and Roger Rosentreter

LICHENS AND INVERTEBRATES: A BRIEF REVIEW AND BIBLIOGRAPHY by Stephen Sharnoff

 

LICHENS AND WILDLIFE

 

Mary banged hard at the base of the tree to alert the flying squirrel before she began climbing, but the squirrel didn't emerge until she opened the lid of the nest box. It burst out and sailed to another tree, catching everyone off guard. That nest had babies in it, so she left it in the box, unexamined.

The boxes, in the Idaho panhandle, were originally intended for boreal owls. A section of forest there is somewhat lacking in tree cavities and other natural apartments for owls. But northern flying squirrels moved in too, building fluffy brown Bryoria lichen nests.

Gingerbread houses with no witch, the Bryoria nests also serve as vital winter food for the flying squirrels. And the squirrels themselves are food for the boreal owls.

(Click on the photos with blue borders for enlarged views.)

 

These caribou are digging craters in the snow to find the lichens they like to eat, lichens which form about 90% of their winter diet. They can smell the lichens through the snow, unless the snowpack is too deep or too covered in ice. Sometimes they will fight over possession of a good lichen patch.

 

Photo copyright George Caleff

Not surprisingly, a large number of related lichen species that the reindeer and caribou eat are known, depending on which continent they inhabit, as reindeer lichens or caribou lichens. Cladina stellaris is the most heavily eaten species.

In the boreal forest (click for photo), reindeer also eat species of Bryoria and Alectoria (see below) that grow on trees.

 

 

Biologists Mary Edwards, Roger Rosentreter, and Ken Berger examine a football-sized flying squirrel nest made entirely from species of Bryoria.

 

 

Bryoria fremontii is one of the Bryoria species that northern flying squirrels use as nesting material and food. Their very favorite delicacies, truffles, aren't always available.

The Yunnan snub-nosed monkey, an endangered species in China, subsists mostly on two species of Bryoria.

 

 

Mountain goats eat lichens. In southeastern Alaska, they eat Lobaria linita among other species.

 

From the Pacific Northwest up through Alaska, Alectoria sarmentosa (witch's hair) that blows down from the tree canopies during storms helps black-tailed deer survive when other forage is buried under snow.

 

The golden plover uses Thamnolia vermicularis in its nests. More than 50 species of birds in North America are known to use lichens in nest building, and at least a couple of species, the spruce grouse and the wild turkey are reported to eat lichens. The olive-headed weaver in Madagascar makes its nests entirely from a lichen in the genus Usnea.

 

 

It isn't just the low resolution of this photograph on a computer monitor that makes this lacewing larva hard to see on lichen-and-liverwort-covered beech bark. It has camouflaged its sticky body with a coating of powdery lichen fragments. Lichen-camouflaged lacewing larvae are almost invisible except when they move around in their jittery little way. Many small invertebrates use lichens for habitat and camouflage

For more detailed information on lichens and animals go to:

LICHEN USE BY WILDLIFE IN NORTH AMERICA by Stephen Sharnoff and Roger Rosentreter

LICHENS AND INVERTEBRATES: A BRIEF REVIEW AND BIBLIOGRAPHY by Stephen Sharnoff

Photographs copyright Stephen/Sylvia Sharnoff except as noted.

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