PETER RABBIT? Here is a quick trivia question: What do Peter Rabbit, canaries and moose have to do with lichens?
It turns out that Beatrix Potter, the author of the Peter Rabbit tales, was also a respected biologist. She was one of the first to theorize that lichens are in fact a symbiotic relationship between an algae and a fungus. The algae photosynthesizes in bright light and feeds the fungus, which wraps around the algae to protect it from drying. Love and Marriage, Horse and Carriage, Soup and Sandwich – – if only the words rhymed better we’d all be singing how Algae and Fungus go so well together!
Canaries, of course, were once used to warn miners if pockets of poisonous gas were nearby. When the canary died, miners scrambled for the surface. Lichens perform the same function in modern times. They are a good indicator of air quality, something the good, lichen-loving folks in Highlands NC appreciate every day.
Moose? It turns out that some fungi can protect algae even from freezing temperatures. Lichens growing under the snows of Alaska serve as the main food source for moose, elk and deer during the winter.