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Alpine Adaptation: Solid As A Rock

By Charles J. Zimmerman

Sep 27 2019

Lichens are the primary colonizers of new habitat in alpine regions. Unlike plants, they can survive on barren rock, then slowly generate soil upon which other organisms can grow, making them indispensable to the natural cycle of ecosystem building in areas recently uncovered by geological change. Understanding this unique property of lichens and knowing their precise rate of growth has allowed scientists to estimate the exact age of newly-exposed mountain slopes based on measurements of the size of lichens found on their surface. This colorful species, known as the Elegant Sunburst Lichen (Xanthoria elegans), was the first ever used for this process of rock dating—known as Lichenometry.

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Bressan, D. (2010). Botany for geologists: Lichenometry. Field of Science: History of Geology. [Website]. Retrieved 25 September 2019 from