PRESS ARTICLE | Experts explore impacts of bushfire to rare lichen colonies on Mount Canobolas

The two Canberra-based scientists assessed any damage and gave maintenance advice to the National Parks and Wildlife Service for four lichen species that occur nowhere else in the world.

Orange-based Dr Richard Medd invited Dr Patrick McCarthy, who was an expert lichen taxonomist, and Professor Jack Elix, who had a chemistry background that he used to help identify lichens and explore their complex biochemistry, to visit the Mount Canobolas State Conservation Area.

Dr Medd said lichens were fundamental to the ecosystem and their role included producing nitrogen and filtering air, but they were often overlooked.

“Mount Canobolas is incredibly special in terms of its lichen population, they said it was one of the best collections of the species,” Dr Medd said.

“The mountain was burnt in February, that was part of the reason for their visit, and how much damage was done,” Dr Medd said.

As well as smoke and fire damage, he said Dr McCarthy and Professor Elix also looked at the effect of fire retardant on the lichens.

“That’s a bit of a concern on what impact could have. Lichens are very slow growing so that was also part of their visit knowing how to maintain them,” Dr Medd said.

“In 10 years they might grow a centimetre or two, they are slower than fingernails.”

Professor Elix said the study looked at the threatened Mount Canobolas Xanthoparmelia Lichen Endangered Ecological Community.

“The EEC consists of a suite of nine lichen species and is only found on Mount Canobolas,” Professor Elix said.

“Lichens serve an important role in protecting the earth’s biocrust and this is the only lichen community in Australia with legal protection.”

The work of the scientists and colleagues, has identified more than 100 lichen species that inhabit soil, rocks, tree trunks, branches and dead timber on and around the mountain.

Dr Medd said lichen has many uses, reindeer are able to exist on them and lichens have also been used to dye silk and Scottish Harris Tweed.

However, he said it was not known how the Mount Canobolas lichens were traditionally used.

Photo: Dr. Pat McCarthy (left) and Prof. Jack Elix (right) inspect lichens on Mt Canobolas.

Article by Tanya Marschke in the Central Western Daily on 12 October 2019.