Experts find 12 new species of Philippine lichens

Local experts recently found 12 new species of lichens living in Philippine mountains. This finding was documented in the study "Philippine Species of Parmotrema (Ascomycota, Parmeliaceae)" published in the June 2017 issue of the Philippine Journal of Science.

The research team led by Paulina Bawingan reported 30 identified Parmotrema species, in which 12 are new records in the Philippines. While this does not indicate that the species are endemic in the country, it shows that the Philippines has a rich lichen diversity waiting to be explored.

The exploration

Given the Gratuity Permit by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Bawingan and her colleagues explored the forests of Benguet, Ifugao, and Mountain Province. They also studied some collected species from Mt. Apo and Mt. Kitanglad through their partnership with Dr. Andrea Azuelo of Central Mindanao University (CMU). Collaboration with other universities enabled them to collect and identify other Parmotrema samples from Ilocos Norte, Pangasinan, Isabela, and Nueva Vizcaya.

The team was able to identify the morpho-anatomic features and chemistry of the lichens through observation. The authors used microscopes to observe the features of the samples. They also used chemicals to "spot test" the samples. A spot test is done through dropping of specific chemicals on select parts of the lichens, causing them to change color or produce unique chemicals.

Meanwhile, foreign lichenologists like Dr. John Elix of Australian National University, also one of the authors, and Dr. HarrieSipman of Freie University in Berlin, Germany verified the new species.

"We were also able to meet foreign lichenologists who taught us to identify the lichens, (and) provided free consultation and reference materials," Bawingan revealed.

Through her personal visits to herbaria and laboratories abroad, Bawingan said that she learned more about lichens, especially their importance and use, as well as their taxonomy or how they are named and classified.

Lichens with pores

Parmotrema refers to the group of lichens with apothecia or pores. Lichens use apothecia to produce spores which are their means for reproduction. The term Parmotrema comes from the Greek words parmosor "cup" and tremaor "perforations."

These lichen species abound in forests in mountains of high altitudes, growing mostly on barks of trees and on rocks.

Lichens are composite organisms, the result of the symbiosis of fungus and alga or cyanobacterium or both. The alga or cyanobacterium uses sunlight to make nutrients while the fungus gives minerals, shelter, and water.

For more than a century since the discovery of the two-way relationship in lichens, it was also discovered in 2016 that yeasts are living on the cortex or outer layer of the lichens. The yeasts make chemicals that repel predators.

Lichens are known to be sensitive to atmospheric pollutants. "They can be used for atmospheric pollutant remediation," Bawingan shared.

"Lichens in general, Parmotrema species included, possess unique compound. Presently, I have PhD students doing research on antimicrobial and anticancer properties of lichens," she added.

Lichens are not exempted from threats of forest degradation.  "We cut down the trees, we eliminate also the lichens. If we conserve the forest, we conserve the other organisms that use them as habitats." Bawingan explained.      

Through their study, the authors hope that younger scientists will be encouraged to study the rich lichen diversity of the country, as mentioned in their paper.

The full article of "Philippine Species of Parmotrema (Ascomycota, Parmeliacaea)" can be downloaded for free in the PJS Volume 146 No. 2 at philjournsci.dost.gov.ph. PJS, published by the Department of Science and Technology – Science and Technology Information Institute, is the oldest journal in the country. By David Matthew C. Gopilan, DOST-STII, Philippine Journal of Science

Parmotremalichens

Thriving on barks. Parmotrematinctorum represents the unraveled lichen diversity of the Philippines. There are 300 known species of Parmotremalichens existing worldwide while its estimate in the Philippines is yet to be known. Photo by P. Bawingan.

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