A recent survey of lichens on Prince Edward Island found a specimen that has been collected in North America just a handful of times.

Lichens generally grow on rocks and trees, and are a combination of two different organisms: a fungus and an algae working together to draw nutrients directly from the air. They can be small, appearing as coloured patches, or grow into long, beard-like structures.

Troy McMullin

Lichens are important indicators of climate change, says Troy McMullin. (University of Guelph)

"We added 66 new species that had not been recorded from the Island previously," said Troy McMullin, a lichenologist from the University of Guelph.

"One of them was a species [Sclerophora amabilis] that's been collected, it looks to me, about seven times in North America, ever.  They came from an area that was along the Percival River, which is probably the most undeveloped region in P.E.I."

McMullin compares lichens to the canary in the coal mine. If air pollution increases, lichens would be more likely to die off. That's why it's important, he said, to catalogue lichens as a base for tracking climate change. He wants to return to P.E.I. to look for new species of lichen.