Boreal felt lichen (Erioderma pedicellatum)

GenusErioderma (1)
SizeDiameter: 2 - 5 cm (2)

Classified as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List (1).

Known as the “panda bear” of lichens because of its extreme rarity, the boreal felt lichen is a ‘leafy’ species that grows on the branches and trunks of tree (2) (3). When hydrated it has a bluish-grey colour, but when dry it is more dark grey to greyish-brown. The edges of this lichen typically curl up to expose whitish undersides (2).

The boreal felt lichen was formerly known from Norway, Sweden, and Canada (a boreal population on New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and an Atlantic population on Newfoundland) (1) (2) (4). Today, the species is thought to be restricted to two disjunct populations: the boreal population on Newfoundland, and a vastly depleted Atlantic population on Nova Scotia (1) (2).

The remaining populations are found in cool, moist, old-growth coniferous forest, and grow predominately on the trunks of balsam fir (Abies balsamea). In Europe, it grew in temperate forest, mainly on the twigs of Norway spruce (Pecea abies) (1).

Lichens consist of two different organisms, a 'mycobiont' (a fungus) and a 'phycobiont' (either an alga, which is a simple plant, or a cyanobacterium, a bacteria that can photosynthesise), which live together in a symbiotic association (5). The phycobiont in the boreal felt lichen is a cyanobacteria. The presence of the cyanobacteria makes the boreal felt lichen particularly sensitive to atmospheric pollution such as acid rain (2).

In addition to being highly sensitive to atmospheric pollutants such as acid rain, the boreal felt lichen is extremely vulnerable to habitat loss (1) (2). Logging not only removes lichen substrate, but also alters the microclimate of the forest, a factor to which this species is particularly susceptible (4). Owing to the impacts of habitat loss and air pollution, the Atlantic population has declined by more than 90 percent over the past two decades (2) (3).

The Atlantic population of the boreal felt lichen is protected in Canada under the Federal Species at Risk Act (SARA), and is the focus of an ongoing recovery strategy (2). Crucially, efforts are being made, through land purchases and agreements with landowners, to formally protect areas of forest that are home to this rare species (2) (3). Furthermore, conservationists are engaging with private and government forest managers to encourage their participation in the mapping of boreal felt lichen habitat and the implementation of management plans that will prevent further habitat loss (2).

To find out more about the conservation of the boreal felt lichen see:

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  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2009)