Lichen conservation – the demography of little things

Project Details

This is a CASE project with the Isles of Scilly of Wildlife Trust, in wider collaboration with Plantlife, Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and the British Lichen Society

Key Questions

What makes a rare species rare?

How can we effectively manage sensitive species?

Can we make reasonable predictions regarding the response of a species with complex needs to projected climate change?


Lichens, as an intricate symbiosis of fungi and simple photosynthetic organisms, are an often over-looked part of our biodiversity, despite their important roles in many ecological communities. Indeed, lichens are excellent bioindicators of air pollution due to the manner in which they draw nutrients from the air. There are many species of lichen that have shown dramatic changes in abundance and distribution in the UK, which is one of the few parts of the world with a relatively substantial history of lichen recording. It is clear lichens have great sensitivity to environment change, of which air quality is just one factor. In contrast to the situation in the UK, the conservation status of lichens at a global scale is very poorly documented. The IUCN 2015 Red List of Threatened species includes only seven lichens with documented conservation concerns. This seems certain to reflect a lack of attention being given to the 15,000 or so lichen species that have been identified globally, rather than an indication of the true conservation state of the lichenised fungi world.

Aims of the Project

This species focuses on the Gilt-edged Lichen Crocodia aurata, a readily-identified species which has a wide global distribution but is in a critical conservation state across its former continental European distribution. Having been considered extinct in Britain, it was rediscovered in 2001, and is now known from just two tiny colonies, both on land managed by the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust. This DPhil will make a major contribution to the Species Action Plan that has been produced for a flagship species for European lichen conservation.


Project Description

Through this DPhil, the student will develop key field and quantitative skills in the examination of the abiotic and biotic factors that shape the distribution and demographic performance of this species. Via a combination of fieldwork, experiments in greenhouse settings, and quantitative analyses using demographic tools and species distribution models, the student will examine the mechanisms that control its current distribution. The likely performance of Gilt-edged Lichen will be projected under different IPCC scenarios, considering changes in sea-level, erosion rates, temperature, humidity and competitive vegetation growth, factoring in the possible land management options by the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust for the species’ habitat.

The Species Action Plan for Gilt-edged Lichen looks to see its recovery in the Isles of Scilly, with the species having previously been recorded from at least five other islands in the archipelago. Species translocation experiments will be a fundamental tool for understanding the factors affecting this species in the field, as well as the mechanism for achieving species recovery.

All these aims will be carried out under close collaboration with the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust, CASE partner in this project, along with a wider partnership of the principal lichen conservation research agencies in the UK.

Methods to be used

Fieldwork, including reciprocal transplant experiments, integral projection models, UAV surveying

Specialised skills required

All can be learned, but an eager mind for fieldwork AND quantitative analyses, including ecological modelling in R or Python would be beneficial.

Please contact Rob Salguero-Gomez on if you are interested in this project.  The partner supervisor at Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust is Julian Branscombe