Originally Posted: September 9, 2016
Below is an excerpt from Taos News.
Hike to Williams Lake
Nineteen people joined Dr. John Ubelaker, professor of biology at the Southern Methodist University, on a great hike to Williams Lake Aug. 20. Interesting ferns, trees and flowering plants were discussed all along the way. Ubelaker has a wealth of knowledge on plants, their uses both today and historically – and he shares freely. We learned a great deal about the “Canadian Zone,” which is one of six zones in the state and that extends all the way up to Canada. It is comprised predominantly of three types of trees — spruce, fir and aspen. Above this zone is the arctic-alpine zone, which was beyond our reach on this trip.
To someone newly transplanted from Florida, where Spanish moss abounds — the dripping gray-green hanging from the trees is not a simple air plant like Spanish moss, but a hanging lichen. Ubelaker explained that a lichen is a relationship between an algae and a fungus. The long, grayish green strings are fungus on the outside, with algae cells inside. Fungi are not photosynthetic, therefore they often feed on things like algae. But through photosynthesis, the algae cells make sugars — which they allow to leak out so that the fungus can feed — while the fungus provides a necessary aquatic environment in which the algae cells can live and grow.
It is a unique relationship which enables algae, one of the first forms of life on earth, to live up in a tree. Fungus is the ultimate decomposer in our environment, but now it doesn’t have to feed on the algae. Instead, they exist in a symbiotic relationship — not harming the tree or each other. The fungus will occasionally release spores, which have one algae cell inside, and it will find a new tree. Not only is this fascinating, but since some 50 bird species use lichen as nest material, and elk and other deer eat it, both hanging and rock lichen are an important part of the circle of life in New Mexico.
This fascinating bit of information was given us in the parking lot, before even getting onto the trail. You will not want to miss future field trips with Ubelaker. READ MORE