Welcome to the lichen section of ABMI's Biodiversity Browser. Scroll down the page to learn more about lichens and why they are important to monitor. Or click the button below to find out more about individual lichen species in Alberta.

Photo Credit: Photo: Diane Haughland


Lichens are unions of at least one fungus and one alga (cyanobacterium and/or green alga)[1]. The ABMI monitors a subset of Alberta’s lichens, namely the relatively large macrolichens, and tiny stubble lichens and allied fungi.

Facts About Lichens

image Photo Credit: D. Haughland

Horsehair lichens (genus Bryoria) feed Woodland Caribou in the winter when other food is scarce.

Lichens are our neighbours, living alongside us in cities, forests and grasslands. A few of the jobs these amazing symbiotic "organisms" perform are:

  • creating habitat for many other species, including within their own "bodies"—they are microcosms of diversity[2];
  • providing food for other species including iconic mammals such as caribou and flying squirrels[3];
  • fixing atmospheric nitrogen for use by other species[4]—all organisms need nitrogen to make protein and DNA;
  • sequestering carbon and conducting photosynthesis[4];
  • creating and stabilizing soil[5]; and
  • regulating soil moisture and temperature[6].

Lichen Diversity in Alberta

There are more than 1,000 lichen species in Alberta. The ABMI has data on >450 of those species. Of these, 10 species are new to science, with additional potential new species yet to be fully investigated.

Why Monitor Lichens

Lichens are excellent indicators of ecosystem health. Globally, they have been used as bioindicators for more than 150 years[7]. Lichens are exceptional bioindicators because:   

  • Lichens are diverse, sensitive and occur in every terrestrial habitat in Alberta[8], and they are perennial and stable across seasons.
  • Lichens bioaccumulate contaminants from air, dust and moisture, transferring those contaminants through the food web[9,10]. Consequently, they are inexpensive indicators of air quality. 
  • Lichen diversity responds to forest management, stand age and continuity[11]
  • As their communities are dependent on ambient humidity, rain and dust to survive, lichens are responsive to climate, with changes in temperature and humidity affecting growth, reproduction and survival[12].
image Photo Credit: D. Haughland

Tree-dwelling (epiphytic) lichens like those coating the trunk of this birch are excellent air quality biomonitors.

Spotlight on Lichen Projects

Hooded Tube (Hypogymnia physodes) is a proven biomonitor in the Alberta Oil Sands Region.

Photo Credit: D. Haughland
The RECCAP Project: Retrospective Evaluation of Contaminants in Cryptogams in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region Partnership

Lichens collected by the ABMI are not only a record of biodiversity at a given time and place, they also record the elements in that environment, absorbed from the moisture and dust deposited on their bodies. In collaboration with the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association, we are exploring the use of these biological archives to track changes in air quality and deposition across Alberta, including the Athabasca Oil Sands Region.  

Freckle Pelt (Peltigera aphthosa) and Orange Chocolate Chip Lichen (Solorina crocea) growing together in the mountains.

Photo Credit: D. Haughland
The Peltigera Project: Taxonomy and Ecology of Alberta’s Cyanolichens 

A collaboration with the Lutzoni Lab at Duke University, this project started with documenting Alberta’s amazing Peltigera diversity through genetic work, and expanded to understanding what factors shape the distribution of all lichens with cyanobacterial partners across Alberta. Partially funded by a National Science Foundation grant to F. Lutzoni and J. Miadlikowska entitled “Spatio-temporal factors shaping cyanolichen networks”. Click here to find out more information.   

Hooded Sunburst (Xanthomendoza fallax) brightens Edmonton’s boulevard trees.

Photo Credit: D. Haughland
Getting to Know Our Neighbours: the Edmonton Lichen Flora Project 

In collaboration with past students of the University of Alberta Lichens of Alberta class, we document the amazing lichen flora of Edmonton, and explore what lichens are telling us about climate and air quality within the city. 

Illustration of Hooded Sunburst (Xanthomendoza fallax) by Amanda Schutz.

The Living Valley: an Illustrated Study of Lichen

This collaboration with graphic designer and artist Amanda Schutz illustrates lichens that can be found around Edmonton. Based on collections and microscope sections, Amanda’s art invites you to see lichens from a different perspective. Click here for more information about this project or to see the illustrations. 

Meet the ABMI's Resident Lichen Experts

Dr. Diane Haughland

Lead Scientist, Lichens & Allied Fungi

Diane has been with the ABMI since 2005, and the lead lichenologist for ABMI since 2011. She gave in to her love of lichens while completing her PhD on multi-taxa biodiversity monitoring with the ABMI. She is an ecologist by training, and taxonomist and teacher by nature. 

Darcie Thauvette

Lichen Taxonomist

Darcie has been working as a lichen taxonomist for the ABMI since 2011. Her curiosity with lichen began after a snowboarding trip ended in a close encounter with a hair-lichen covered tree and she's been obsessed ever since.

Jose Maloles

Lichen Taxonomist

Jose joined the ABMI in 2022. He has a background in floristic surveys and vegetation monitoring, and brings his keen interest in lichen taxonomy and ecology, particularly calicioid (stubble) lichens, to the team.

If you have questions about the ABMI's lichen monitoring program, or to find out about the next Lichens of Alberta course at the University of Alberta (January 2025), please get in touch:

Additional Resources and Publications

How do we monitor lichens?

Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute. 2021. Terrestrial field data collection protocols (abridged version). Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute, Alberta, Canada. Report available here:

Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute. 2010. Laboratory protocols for processing lichens, Version 2010-05-31. Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute, Alberta, Canada. Report available here:

How do we identify lichens?

Coming soon. Contact Diane Haughland (email above) for copies of draft keys to the lichens of Alberta.

Selected publications:

image Photo Credit: Darcie Thauvette

Lippy Frost Lichen (Physconia labrata) described from collections made near Hinton.

Haughland, D.L., A. Hood, D. Thauvette, S.A. Toni, M. Cao, J.D. Birch, J. Wasyliw, L. Hjartarson, M. Villeneuve, A. Stordock, D.A. Fielder, M. Lewis, D. Evans, D. Royko, R. Bolduc, H. Webster, J.D. Singh, K.A. Schafer, S. Goyette, H.E. Davidson, and C. Shier. 2022. Getting to know our biomonitor neighbors: urban lichens and allied fungi of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Opuscula Philolichenum. Pp 33-181. Available here:

Haughland, D.L., A. Hillman, and E.T. Azeria. 2018. Tackling rarity and sample bias with large-scale biodiversity monitoring: a case study examining the status, distribution and ecology of the lichen Cladonia rei in Alberta, Canada. The Lichenologist 50(2): 211-230.

Esslinger, T.L., B. McCune, and D.L. Haughland. 2017. Physconia labrata, a new species from western North America and Asia. The Bryologist 120(4): 427-434. Available here:

Haughland, D.L. and M. Martel. 2016. Chaenothecopsis oregana new to Canada. Evansia 33: 34-39.

To view additional publications by Diane Haughland, click here.  

Selected presentations & blogs:

For the love of lichens (2024). Nature Alberta article available here.

Why monitor lichens (2021). Presentation available here.  

Explore the wondrous world of Alberta’s Lichens. Blog available here.

Lichen block party (2021). Presentation available here.

Understanding Alberta’s lichens (2013). Video available here.

The world beneath our feet: the mysterious nature of lichens. Blog part 1 available here and blog part 2 available here.



Muggia, L. and M. Grube. 2018. Fungal diversity in lichens: from extremotolerance to interactions with algae. Life 2018, 8, 15. doi:10.3390/life8020015.


Asplund, J. and D.A. Wardle. 2017. How lichens impact on terrestrial community and ecosystem properties. Biological Reviews 92: 1720-1738. doi: 10.1111/brv.12305.


Thomas, D.C., E.J. Edmonds, and W.K. Brown. 1996. The diet of woodland caribou populations in west-central Alberta. Rangifer 16: 37-342.


Elbert, W., B. Weber, S. Burrows, J. Steinkamp, B. Büdel, M.O. Andreae, and U Pöschl. 2012. Contribution of cryptogamic covers to the global cycles of carbon and nitrogen. Nature Geoscience 5: 459-462. DOI: 10.1038/NGEO1486.


Jung, P., K. Baumann, D. Emrich, A. Springer, V.J.M.N.L. Felde, S. Dultz, C. Baum, M. Frank, and B. Büdel. 2020. Lichens bite the dust—a bioweathering scenario in the Atacama Desert. iScience 23: 101647.


van Zuijlen, K., R.E. Roos, K. Klanderud, S.I. Lang, and J. Asplund. 2020. Mat-forming lichens affect microclimate and litter decomposition by different mechanisms. Fungal Ecology 44:100905. 


Grindon, L.H. 1859. The Manchester flora. London. 


Huggard, D. 2017. 6.2 Taxa summaries for Chapter 6 – technical report. ABMI 10 year review. 


Conti, M.E. and G. Cechetti. 2001. Biological monitoring: lichens as bioindicators of air pollution assessment—a review. Environmental Pollution 114: 471-492.


Abas, A. 2021. A systematic review on biomonitoring using lichen as the biological indicator: a decade of practices, progress and challenges. Ecological Indicators 121: 107197.


Ellis, C.J. 2012. Lichen epiphyte diversity: a species, community and trait-based review. Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution and Systematics 14: 131-152.


 Ellis, C.J. 2019. Climate change, bioclimatic models and the risk to lichen diversity. Diversity 11: 54. doi:10.3390/d11040054.

We are grateful for the support of the ABMI's delivery partners.


We would like to acknowledge the organizations and sponsors highlighted below who financially supported the development of this report.