Learn about lichen with Trevor Goward

The next Wells Gray World Heritage Year event will be a field course on June 21, 22 and 23 about lichens

Trevor Goward will host a workshop on the lichens of Wells Gray Park this weekend.

Trevor Goward will host a workshop on the lichens of Wells Gray Park this weekend.

The next Wells Gray World Heritage Year event will be a field course on June 21, 22 and 23 about lichens to be put on by Trevor Goward.

Recent research has shown Wells Gray Park and its vicinity to be a major global hotspot for lichen diversity, according to Goward, who is one of the world’s top lichen experts.

This unexpected finding was released online recently by Trevor Goward and Curtis Björk, who have been studying the lichen flora of the Clearwater Valley for several years. In their report, the two lichen experts list 425 noncrustose lichen species in an area less than one-fifth the size of Prince Edward Island.

“We’re not sure yet about the crustose lichens,” says Goward, “but it’s clear that the Wells Gray – Clearwater area supports more species of noncrustose than any area of comparable size on earth.”

Lichens are “meta-organisms” that have evolved from fungi and algae growing in close symbiosis with one another.

“Some scientists refer to lichens as fungi that have discovered agriculture,” says Goward, “but you could as easily think of them as algae that have discovered domestication! At any rate, everybody agrees that they’re unique within the living world”.

Why does the Wells Gray area support such a rich lichen flora?

“Nobody really knows,” said Goward. “One possibility is that many species have found their way here from nearby areas. Wells Gray is at the northern end of Canada’s richest – and tightest – assemblage of life zones, so possibly this area gets inoculated from time to time by lichens more characteristic of life zones not specifically represented here.”

“The discovery of high biodiversity for lichens bodes well for our eventual bid to have Wells Gray declared a World Heritage Site,” said Tom Dickinson, dean of science at Thompson Rivers University and a member of the Wells Gray World Heritage Committee. “We’re still some years away from putting together a formal proposal, but there’s no doubt that every piece of information of this kind will help us make a stronger case.”

To bring attention to this milestone announcement, Goward is offering a weekend lichen workshop as part of Wells Gray World Heritage Year. The workshop begins at 7 p.m. on Friday evening (21 June) with a public lecture entitled What’s so special about Wells Gray Park: a new world hotspot for biodiversity. Meet at the Upper Clearwater Community Hall, 25 km north of Clearwater. Cookies and tea will be served. Admission is by donation.

The following morning, starting at 10:30 a.m., participants will again meet at the Hall for a day-long driving and walking tour of some lichen highlights of the local area.

“Mostly I’ll focus on how to use lichens to “read” the landscape,” said Goward. “As I’ll try to show, the Clearwater Valley provides some amazing opportunities for this kind of activity. It’s really unsurpassed as outdoor laboratory for lichen study.”

REGISTRATION: The Friday presentation is open to all, but the Saturday and Sunday events will be capped at 20-25 people. To register, please contact Shelley Sim at: shelleysim@originalholidays.ca.

WHAT TO BRING: For the Saturday field outing, please bring a lunch and some tea or coffee; also a magnifying glass or hand lens if you have one. When registering, be sure to ask about accommodations, weather, footwear and clothing.

READING: You can find out more about lichens and how to “read” them by linking to: www.waysofenlichenment.net/.