New warts and all

It is microscopic, with yellow growths and a crust characterised by small grains or warts. Say hello to crustose lichen Cliostomum piceicola.

Hiking with Håkon Holien has a different tempo. Rather than taking in the spectacular northern vistas, Holien prefers to get a closer look. More often than not on the forest floor, magnifying glass in hand. He is looking for something. And this time he found it.

This microscopically small, somewhat retiring wonder: a new species.

Håkon Holien is an associate professor at Nord University's Faculty of Biosciences and Aquaculture. He has a passion for lichen, and his biggest kick comes from identifying a new species.

A feat Håkon has achieved on numerous occasions in the course of his 40-year career.

Endangered crustose lichen

Håkon's latest find is a species that has been named Cliostomum piceicola. Cliostomum being the genus (or generic name), while piceicola is the name of the new species.

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Unique find: Cliostomum piceicola - a new species of crustose lichen. Photo: E. Timdal


– This is a crustose lichen that grows on spruce, called Picea in Latin.

– It is an extraordinarily rare type of crustose lichen, which appears to grow only in old growth forests. The host trees have been at least 150 years old, but mostly over 200 years.

– I found this one is Steinkjer, on dead twigs under what we call a "skirt spruce", says Holien.  

According to Holien, this species is so rare that it will go directly onto the endangered list. The lichen is 0.1 - 0.7mm thick, with yellow growths and crusty structure, with small grains or warts.

– The lowest branches of the skirt spruce bend all the way down to the ground. The environment under the skirt, on the dead twigs, is very dry but still humid. This combination makes for a special growth environment.

Holien believes that the new species probably exists other places in the Taiga system, in moist old growth forests, such as those in Russia and Jämtland. 

Complicated process

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Likes lichen: Håkon Holien from Steinkjer is an associate professor at Nord University. Photo: Sara Sällström.

The road from discovering a new species to documenting it as completely new for science is long and demanding. Holien actually found this species many years ago, but confused it with a related species, which grows further south. 

- But then we discovered that this species had a different chemistry and composition than its southern relative.  

- In addition, its morphology, ecology and distribution indicated that it was a different and unique species, says Holien.

Holien and colleague Professor Tor Tønsberg from the University of Bergen recently presented the new species in the international journal Herzogia

– Yes, you need a lot of detailed information about the species, so that other researchers can verify your find.

– We must also make specimens available to the wider academic community, so that other researchers can borrow them and check our analysis. 

The specimens are being stored in the herbarium at NTNU's University Museum in Trondheim.

Many undiscovered species

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Never tires: – Researching lichen is like peeling an onion. One continually discovers new layers, says Holien, here on a field trip with other researchers.  Archive photo.

For Holien, discovering a new species is always exciting.
– I have always been a bit of a curious George. Combine that with the right scientific knowledge and it is possible to find new things right outside your front door. There are still so many species that are undiscovered, especially in the micro world, he says. 

Holien is also engaged in a comprehensive, long-term project run by the Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre, which aims to establish an overview of all the species in Norway. Holien says that especially researchers working with insects often make new discoveries. 

- But so do those of us working with small fungi and lichens. We find species that are both new for the region and for science. Right now we are looking at lichen parasites, which are small fungi that grow on lichen. An incredibly exciting universe, says Holien.

Call for new attitudes

- Personally, I would like to see normal people, not just researchers, taking a greater interest in the natural world around us - the names and unique characteristics of plants and animals.  

– Knowledge about specific species seems to be less and less accessible for the average person. I wish it was more comprehensible, more humble. 

– The natural world we experience today is the result of a long process, a process that we humans have a tendency to disrupt. Dissemination of knowledge is so important, to ensure that we act and manage our environment responsibly.  

Facts about Cliostomum piceicola

Cliostomum means "closed mouth" and refers to the black structures on the lichen that produce droplets of an unidentified substance. When these jar like structures mature, they open pores. 

The lichen produces two, different substances. The yellow growths produce a different substance. These spores are elliptical or rod-shaped.

The lichen's southern cousin is called "dripping lichen" in Norwegian. This species will be called "spruce dripping lichen".  
Piceicola meaning "grows on spruce".