Lichens and air pollution

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Watch the video to find out what lichens can tell you about pollution levels in your local environment.

You can find out a lot about air quality in your area by studying lichens on local trees, as different lichens thrive in different conditions.

The golden shield lichen, Xanthoria parietina, for example, can live in areas with high levels of nitrogen, especially ammonia, and so it can be used to monitor nitrogen levels in the atmosphere.  It is common on trees and buildings near farmland and on sea cliffs where seabirds provide nitrogen.

About the golden shield lichen

The golden shield lichen is made up of a fungus, which forms the body of the lichen, and a green alga.  The alga provides nutrients for the fungus through photosynthesis while the fungus provides protection for the alga from drought and UV light.

This is an example of a symbiotic relationship, where 2 organisms live together and both benefit.

About monitoring air quality

The Open Air Laboratories network is running an air survey to find out about pollution levels in the air all over the UK.  Anyone can take part.

Join the OPAL air survey