Wild About Nature, organized by Joy Markgraf, scored another home run for its attending audience Friday, April 12.
The evening began with Andrea Ruchty-Montgomery talking about lichens slow-growing moss-like plants that can be found everywhere in nature in many different forms
“We see them on bark, rocks, and logs while long streamers of them hang from trees like Spanish moss. Some look like creepy lettuce, others like tiny cups the pixies might drink from. While the crusty ones even grow in deserts and the arctic.” said Montgomery.
Charles Darwin described lichens as “endless forms, most beautiful and wonderful.”
Lichens are amazing composite creatures. Or as Montgomery put it, “Alice Algae and Freddy Fungus took a Lichen to each other.”
Lichens, like many mosses, grow incredibly slowly, which makes harvesting them problematic as they don’t grow back quickly enough.
In 1868, Simon Schwendener first discovered the genetic make-up of lichens, but framed it as a reflection of 19th Century philosophy regarding slavery
“The master is a fungus of the ascomytes strain . . . the algae are slaves. Assumptions are powerful and prevent us from asking the right questions,” said Schwendener.
Another keen nature observationist, Beatrix Potter, author of Peter Rabbit, wrote a paper supporting Schwendener’s theory of dual organisms. Both of them were dismissed and ridiculed, despite being right!
Contrary to Darwin’s survival of the fittest, Lynn Margulis, an evolutionary theorist and biologist claims that: “Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking.”
The fungus in lichens provides a home while the algae (and cyanobacteria) provide the meals, a symbiotic relationship.
More recently, in 2015, Toby Spribille, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta, discovered another ingredient to Lichen.
Spribille discovered a second fungus, basidiomycetes. More information on this discovery is available online through Spribille’s blog “How a Guy from a Montana Trailer Park Overturned 150 Years of Biology.”
Lichen communities can also provide indications of air pollution quantities -- no instruments needed. Some lichens disappear with pollution, others grow wildly.
There are still mysteries about lichens – how do they combine together? They are two separate creatures, so how are they able to reproduce?
The second speaker of the evening, from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Todd Jacobsen, despite warning that his presentation wouldn’t be as “punny” as Montgomery’s, gave a lively and informative lecture on large carnivores and steps we can take to co-exist with them.
Jacobsen gave useful and practical ideas, as well as interesting information about the animals themselves: physical descriptions, ranges, travel patterns, reproductive success and rates, etc.
On a more humorous note, he showed photos of a supposed cougar, which turned out to be a housecat.
Despite the two recent and widely publicized deaths from cougar attacks, Jacobsen said that cougar attacks are extremely rare.
Apart from cougars, Jacobsen talked about the history of coyotes here in the Gorge. He claimed there were none in the area until about 1900, after the wolves in the area had been eliminated.
This begs the question, however, as to why many of the regional tribes have stories centered on the Coyote?
While not the biggest or most carnivorous animal in the Gorge, one person asked Jacobsen why we no longer see many porcupines on the west county end of Klickitat County.
“Some potential reasons may include people shooting them in addition to car accidents. They are known to damage trees, and aren’t popular with timber growers,” said Jacobsen.
There are two more lectures left in the” Wild About Nature Series, which take place in the White Salmon Library on Friday nights starting at 6:30.
Up next is “The Biogeography of Fish in the Columbia River Gorge and the White Salmon River,” and “SDS Forestry and Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Forest Herbicides” on April 19.
On April 26, “The Burke Museum Herbarium and New Flora of the Pacific Northwest” and “Snakes of the Columbia Gorge.”
If you haven’t been to one of these events yet, know that despite the daunting titles, the lecturers so far have made their specialized knowledge accessible and entertaining for the average person.