National Park Service scientists knew unique species of lichen might exist on the granite faces of Yosemite — they just had trouble getting to them. To solve this problem, they recruited expert ascensionists from the American Alpine Club's elite climbing community to collect specimens.
From Sept.1 to Sept. 21, an international team chiseled at the rusty bands streaking El Capitan, Half Dome, and Vernal Falls in search of new species of lichen. After analyzing the specimens back on the ground, scientists now think they've found new species of lichen that live nowhere else in the world.
"We hear about new species of life being discovered in the remote Amazon, but here in Yosemite?" said extreme mountaineer Carlos Buhler, a member of the only team to ascend Mt. Everest's 29,000-foot east face. "This world of lichen is something that climbers see up close every day without knowing very much about it, so it's a chance for me to learn more about the world in which I live. I doubt I'll ever look at lichen the same way again."
Sponge-like lichen are actually two organisms — a fungus and an algae — living together in symbiotic harmony. They're especially important to scientists because they pull nutrients directly from the atmosphere, and can serve as early indicators for both pollution and climate change in a given ecosystem.
Park scientists already estimate they've doubled the number of known lichen species in Yosemite, and further tests may further determine which ones are unique to the park. When the time comes, I'm sure most climbers won't mind being sent back up on the rock, whether it's in the name of science or sick routes.
— Ted Alvarez
Via The Adventurist