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Liking the Lichens

Lichens are special organisms. They are actually two types of organisms in one. Scientists still debate on whether both organisms are helped by teaming up. You're here to get the facts and might be saying, "What are the two organisms? Tell us now." Ahhh, the excitement of learning.

A Little Bit of This and That

It's all about a fungus and some algae. That's it. Lichen is two organisms working together. When you read about fungi we talked about hyphae. Hyphae are strands of the fungi that form a mesh as they grow. In lichen are actually cells of algae living between those strands. The two organisms work together. The fungus acts as a protector from the environment and loss of moisture. The algae go about their business of photosynthesis and creating food. The fungus uses the energy and the algae are protected and can survive.

So? Why does all of this matter? Why does this help the two organisms survive and multiply? Lichens can live in places that many organisms cannot. Lichens can even live on the side of a rock. That's it. They don't need soil. Slowly the fungus can break down the minerals in the rock. The algae provide energy. They are a self-sufficient team. Scientists may call that team a composite organism. They are both able to be in places they could not go alone. It's an advantage for their survival.

Sorry About That

Are we killing off the lichens of the world? In some places, yes. Indirectly we may be killing many species of lichen. In the same way that air and water pollution are killing off many species of amphibians, lichens are very delicate organisms. Changes in the levels of poisons and toxins hurt the relationship that the fungi and algae have. Always remember, even if the fungi can survive the poisons, if you hurt the algae, the whole organism will die. They are dependent on each other.

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Related Video...

Lichens (Clemson University Video)

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Lichen Quiz

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