Region: Skeleton Coast, Namibia
The northern Namib Desert in Namibia has been largely unexplored, particularly the micro-flora of this region. One of the most common life forms found here are the lichens, highly unusual organisms that are in fact a combination of fungi and algae, to create a new being that is able to live in the most inhospitable places on Earth, creating a fit foundation for other life. Lichens occur in the Namib in large communities, sustained by the coastal fog and stabilising the sandy soil in the form of a biological soil crust. In some areas, lichens are the only vegetation and therefore play an important role in the ecosystem. In the fragile soil crust niche in the Namib Desert, lichens are currently threatened by increasing human activities and disturbances may take several decades to recover.
The Lichen Research Project is conducting a ground survey of all lichen communities in a specified study area, and aims to assess the long-term impacts of human activity on lichens and the Namib Desert ecosystem as a whole. In addition, the study looks at the recovery rates of and physiological changes to lichens.
Over 2003-2004, terricolous (living on soil) lichens were inventoried and described in a 3 000-km² concession of the Skeleton Coast Park in the northern Namib Desert. Five soil crust habitat types were identified and a total of nineteen lichen species were found in these terricolous niches. It seems that the highest species diversity and density occurred in the montane gravel plains, perhaps due to altitude. The more well developed the lichen crusts, the more difficult they will be to replace if disturbed.
Identifications are still required for several of the species found during this survey. Further investigations in the Central Namib are required before comparative analyses can take place between lichen species distribution patterns in the different regions of the Namib Desert.