#18: Kerry Knudsen – The Magic of Lichen

#18: Kerry Knudsen – The Magic of Lichen Nature's Archive

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My guest in this episode is Kerry Knudsen. Kerry is a lichenologist currently based at the University of Life Sciences in Prague. He founded the lichen collection at the University of California Riverside, has 161 peer-reviewed publications on ResearchGate (and more elsewhere), and is currently documenting the lichen of the Chihuahuan Desert. Kerry has discovered over 60 new lichen species that were previously undescribed.

Kerry also has an amazing background story, getting started in lichen later in life after a health condition derailed a long career in construction, forcing him to reset. 

We discuss Kerry’s unique journey to become a world-renowned expert not just in lichen, but in one of the most difficult genera (Acarosporaceae). We get into the life history of lichens, including the incredible serendipity that brings together a fungi and an algae (or cyanobacteria) to form a lichen in the first place, and how lichens form, reproduce, and propagate.

Close-up of Ramalina menziesii, or Lace Lichen, the California State Lichen

Kerry describes recent advancements in understanding lichens, including the complicated microbiome of lichen that include other bacteria and fungi.

I also ask Kerry a lot of questions intended to help amateur naturalists, and Kerry sets expectations on what amateur naturalists can see and identify in the field, and provides tips and suggestions for advancing lichen knowledge beyond field observation.

We also spend some time discussing the impacts of wildfire on lichens, and some of the impact already being seen.

Kerry is currently studying lichen diversity in the Chihuahuan desert in southern New Mexico, and has some surprising findings. And having spent time in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, he has some interesting hypothesis about his preliminary findings.

This was a great opportunity to talk to someone several rungs up the knowledge ladder from me, so, as Alie Ward likes to say on her entertaining Ologies podcast, despite my preparation and research, I had a lot of freedom to ask a smart person stupid questions. And I thank Kerry for his patience and detail in his answers.

A Teloschistaceae species of lichen. This was actually take with my Pixel mobile phone with a small macro lens attachment.

Links To Topics Discussed

People and Organizations

Andre Breton – the founder of Surrealism kept a lichen collection just for the beauty and inspiration

California Lichen Society

Rick Halsey and the California Chaparral Institute. I interviewed Rick in a previous episode, focusing largely on wildfire ecology

Steven Levitt – University of Chicago economist who analyzed the ranching use of the Amazon rainforest. He had a podcast episode with his solution.

Theodore Payne Foundation – Kerry mentioned working here for a period

University of California Riverside (UCR) Herbarium

Books and Other Things

Note: links to books are affiliate links

A Field Guide to California Lichens – Stephen Sharnoff

Macrolichens of the Pacific Northwest – Bruce McCune

Usnea – Kerry mentions Usnea several times. Usnea is a genus with over 600 species, and is difficult to identify in the field.

More Resources

YouTube Video showing how to ID lichens, including how to do chemical spot testing

Kerry later told me about this free online lichenology journal that he co-edits.

Music Credits

Opening – Fearless First by Kevin MacLoed

Closing – Beauty Flow by Kevin MacLoed

Both can be obtained from https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/

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