Lichens and Rising Sea Levels

By Laura Briscoe

Sep 26 2019

In The Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, from Massachusetts to North Carolina, is slated to see sea levels are rise three times as fast as the global average¹. This area is also considered a global biodiversity hotspot for lichens² ³. NYBG lichen curator James Lendemer and colleagues have described several new species of lichens from this region, some of which are likely narrowly endemic, only occuring in a very limited range. Others may have more than a single population, but are still restricted to very low elevation habitats that will almost inevitably be inundated by salt water by the year 2100. Above are three examples of recently-discovered species that may soon be lost.

A view from Assateague Island National Seashore.

The Mid-Atlantic Coast is full of diverse habitats, some of which are protected, like the Assateague Island National Seashore (above), but even land conservation may do little to mitigate the risks of rising sea levels and the effects on plants and fungi.


¹ Kirwan, M. L. & Gedan, K. B. (2019). Sea-level Driven Land Conversion and the Formation of Ghost Forests. Nature Climate Change 9: 450-457. Retrieved 12 September 2019, from

² Lendemer, J. C. & Allen, J. L. (2014). Lichen Biodiversity under Threat from Sea-Level Rise in the Atlantic Coastal Plain. Bioscience. 64(10): 923-931. Retrieved 18 September 2019, from

³ Lendemer, J. C. (2016). A Review of the Lichens of the Dare Regional Biodiversity Hotspot in the Mid-Atlantic Coast Plain of North Carolina, Eastern North America. Castanea 81: 1-77. Retrieved 25 September 2019, from