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People sometimes assume lichens are plants, but technically speaking, they’re not.They’re symbionts, a composite of a fungus and an alga or cyanobacterium. When I look out the window next to my desk, I see splashes of lichen on the roof of my workshop, and on the stone walls across the road. They live in some of the harshest environments on our planet, from Antarctica to the high Arctic, deserts and high peaks, in forests tropical and temperate.Selva’s focus is on the lichens of the Acadian Forest, which stretches from the Adirondacks across northern New England and Maritime Canada and up to Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula.

While lichens are hardy enough to grow in the harshest environments, they’re specialists.

When the air is moist, the white layer becomes more translucent from the moisture, allowing the green color to stand out more (Marshall).

The algae are very skilled in capitalizing on moist environments when they exist, and in this way, it provides nutrition to the fungi (Marshall).

Transplant a tropical lichen from a rainforest to Labrador and it would last about as long as the tree it grew on. They are so sensitive to pollution, said Selva, that they’re used by scientists as barometers of air quality.

Their presence, or absence, can indicate the health of a forest ecosystem, or the air quality in your neighborhood.

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