Loving Lichens

Macaulay student Olivia Asher ’21 (Lehman College) has co-authored an article in the upcoming issue of The Bryologist, a scientific journal whose focus is small ancient organisms such as lichens or mosses. In her article, she goes deeper into the discovery of a new lichen. We had the opportunity to interview Ms. Asher on her experience and this exciting news.

Q: How did the article come about?

A: When I started classes at Lehman College, one of my main goals was to get involved in a research project. I noticed lichen growing on street trees around New York City and I thought they were beautiful, but it seemed like relatively little was known about them. I thought studying lichen would be a fun project to be involved in, and I asked my biology teacher at Lehman, Dr. Jack Henning, if he had any suggestions.

Immediately, Dr. Henning connected me with a lichenologist he knew at the New York Botanical Garden, Dr. James Lendemer. He was extremely enthusiastic about lichen, and eager to help me get involved with lichen research. In the spring I started working with Dr. Lendemer to describe the new species of lichen Lecanora caperatica. 

Q: What’s so exciting or unusual about this new lichen?

A: The exciting thing about the newly described species of lichen Lecanora caperatica is that it isn’t unusual! Lecanora caperatica is a common species widespread in the Northeastern United States. Lichens are often severely impacted by pollution and changes in climate. It is vital to describe as any of the undescribed lichen species as possible so that we can work to protect the habitats of rare or endangered lichens and learn to recognize the common species.

“I’m grateful that Macaulay encourages students to do research assistantships. I enjoy being able to learn more about research and apply what I learn in my science classes at Lehman while I’m interning at the New York Botanical Garden.”

Q: You took a gap year after high school to conduct research. Can you tell us a bit about that?

A: Before I started working on lichens, I did research at the American Museum of Natural History with the Gotham Coyote Project on the diet of New York City coyotes. I started in high school as part of the Science Research Mentoring program, an internship for students to get experience doing novel research projects. I enjoyed working on coyote diet so much that I took a gap year to continue working with the project after my internship before heading off to college. 

Olivia writes about various science topics on her blog.