Scientists scour Keji seaside park — and they're lichen what they've found

A research scientist at Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Nature studies the slow-growing plants to learn about the overall health of the forest.

December survey discovers 10 examples of 'globally rare' vole ears lichen

The blue felt lichen grows on a tree in Keji's seaside park. (Submitted by Troy McMullin)

Troy McMullin spent a good part of December hunting in Nova Scotia's Kejimkujik National Park Seaside. He was armed only with his eyeballs — and he was looking for lichen.

The research scientist at Ottawa's Canadian Museum of Nature studies the slow-growing plants to learn about the overall health of the forest.c

Many forest creatures rely on lichens for camouflage, shelter and food. One tree can host 50 different species.

Lichens live on trees and rocks, preferring cool, humid and coastal conifer forests. The sensitive plants thrive on clear air and clean water, but struggle in polluted areas. 

McMullin and a team of 10 local enthusiasts spent 160 hours hiking through the dense foliage at the coastal extension of the better-known Kejimkujik ​National Park.

"You usually have to swim through the brush and then you'll get to a nice open area where you'll tend to find some of the more rare species," McMullin said in a phone interview Thursday.

McMullin took this close-up of a frosted glass whiskers lichen. Lichen are sensitive to pollution in the air or water.

McMullin worked with Parks Canada to survey the forest. He praised the people who volunteered to help. 

"There are probably more people who really know their lichens well in Nova Scotian than in any other province in Canada," he said. "We found about 300 new individuals of listed species."

That includes the endangered vole ears lichen. "They have a very felty surface. They have a fuzzy upper surface, a fuzzy lower surface," he said.

The endangered vole ears lichen is a rare find in Nova Scotia. McMullin and his team found this one, and nine others, during a search this month. (Submitted by Troy McMullin)

The "globally rare" plant can be found in Africa, South America, and Atlantic Canada. The vole ears lichen was declared endangered in 2009 and the federal government prepared a recovery strategy in 2014.

Previous searches at Kejimkujik seaside found only one vole ears lichen; this year's search turned up 10. McMullin said that suggests the air quality is good.

"It's important to keep all biodiversity here because it's part of a life-support system that supports us all."

McMullin studied at Dalhousie University and has spent a lot of time searching for lichen at Kejimkujik seaside. "It tells us that it's a unique habitat, that it's a good thing it's preserved. It also tells us there's more exploration to do."

Troy McMullin studies a tree in Keji seaside while a colleague takes a photo during the December research project. (Submitted by Parks Canada)