The word rainforest usually conjures up visions of brightly coloured birds and hyperactive monkeys swooping through a thick green canopy of leaves, vines and flowers. But rainforests are also found closer to the poles, in the northern or boreal region where temperatures are far cooler. And while there are no monkeys swinging through the trees here, these forests are every bit as endangered as their southern cousins, and highly diverse if you know where to look.
Olga Hilmo knows. As a biologist and researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), she has made it her business to better understand the treasure trove of genetic diversity that is protected in the tiny fragments of boreal rainforests that still remain. The key, she says, is realizing that this fantastic diversity is hidden in plain sight, in the organisms that drape tree branches in long tendrils of green or grow on bark and rocks in crusty or leafy patches of green or grey.
These organisms, called lichens, are actually two or more species living together in a symbiotic relationship, where a fungus provides the structure and an alga provides nutrients. In a study just published in Molecular Genetics, Hilmo and her colleagues from NTNU's Museum of Natural History and Archaeology and the Nord-Trndelag University College report extremely high genetic diversity for individuals of one lichen species, Lobaria pulmonaria, that grow on the same tree.
Hilmo and her colleagues' findings are important because they show that genetic diversity can persist, even if the species in question is found only in tiny fragments of once plentiful habitat, like northern rainforests.
Lobaria pulmonaria grows to about the size and shape of a crinkly green leaf and is found throughout Europe, Asia, North America and Africa in coastal areas with high rainfall. However, it is in decline and is considered an endange
|Contact: Olga Hilmo|
Norwegian University of Science and Technology