Under the tutelage of Dr. Robert Bauman, professor of biology, Kendra Bice, Abigail Cuellar and Brittany Ehrlich discovered the lichens while conducting field research in accordance with National Science Foundation STEM scholarships each has received through AC.
Bauman says lichens are symbiotic organisms composed of two fungi and a photosynthetic partner, either a green alga or a blue-green bacterium. They occur as crusty patches or bushy growths on tree trunks, rocks or bare ground.
The AC researchers in March collected samples of the Golden-Eye Lichen (Teloschistes chrysophthalmus), which is typically found in South Texas. According to the foremost published authority on the subject, “Lichens of North America,” this lichen has not previously been reported in the Texas Panhandle.
They also identified a specimen of the Bumpy-Rim Lichen (Lecanora hybocarpa), which, according to the same text, may be the first such sighting of its type in Texas.
“I’m thrilled for this group,” Bauman said. “They came in knowing next to nothing about lichens. Yet two days later they were not only identifying lichens and using the key to identify their names, but in doing so they discovered some records.
“It’s very exciting,” he said.
Kendra Bice said her group’s enthusiasm over the discoveries, at least initially, was tempered by caution.
“We were new at this and we were going off the maps in the book,” Bice said. “We were like ‘this can’t be – it’s probably not what we think it is’ but it was, and we had Dr. Bauman there to confirm it. This really is so exciting.”
Bauman has advised the research trio to develop papers about the discoveries for submission to the “Texas Journal of Science,” a publication of The Texas Academy of Science. First, however, he will help them conduct a thorough search of lichen literature to fully validate the new records.
“I would say it is very unlikely that the Teloschistes chrysophthalmus has previously been reported in the Panhandle,” Bauman said. “I’m not as familiar with the Lencanora hybocarpa, so we will do an exhaustive search just to be sure.”
Brittany Ehrlich, a horticulture major at AC, said the team’s search for lichens was fairly exhaustive in itself, primarily because the organisms are most commonly located well off the beaten path.
“Lichens are great detectors of pollution, they are highly sensitive” Ehrlich said. “You don’t find them often in cities because pollution just from all the car exhaust easily kills them. We actually had to go hundreds of feet off the trails even in Ceta Canyon before finding patches of lichens.
“Our goal was to learn how to visually recognize them in nature, to collect a number of species for identification, and to try and determine which lichens are the best markers of pollution. When we found some that did not correspond with our maps, we thought maybe we’d done something wrong. Instead we have these new records. Studying horticulture here is going to be totally amazing.”
PLEASE NOTE: Pictured above are Dr. Robert Bauman with STEM student researchers Kendra Bice, left, and Brittany Ehrlich. Also a member of the research team but not pictured: Abigail Cuellar.
Pictured below: The Golden-Eye Lichen (Teloschistes Chrysophthalmus) disovered by AC students in Ceta Canyon.