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Assessment of Air Pollution by Lichen Indication Method

© Alexsander S. Bogolyubov, Michael V. Kravchenko, Russia, 2001

© Michael J. Brody, USA, 2003

Assessment of air pollution by lichen indication method This manual contains procedures for the application of bioindication research using lichens for the assessment of environmental conditions. The focus is on methods of quantitative evaluation of lichen species in biological monitoring based on the use of poleotolerance classes and lichen bioindication indexes.

This field study has instructional video featuring real students conducting the ecological field techniques in nature. Each video illustrates the primary instructional outcomes and the major steps in accomplishing the task including reporting the results.


The response of biological objects to pollutants is significant for investigations of environmental pollution caused by industrial means. A system of observations of the response of biological objects to the impact of pollutants is called biological monitoring.

Biological monitoring includes observation, assessment and forecast of changes in the state of ecosystems and their elements caused by anthropogenic factors.

Lichens have been chosen as one of the main objects of global biological monitoring. Lichens represent a peculiar group of spore plants consisting of two components Ц a fungus and a single-celled or, rarely, filamentous algae, which live together and function as one organism. The fungus performs the functions of reproduction and feeding at the substratum, whereas the algae photosynthesize.

Lichens are very sensitive to nature and composition of the substratum; their growth is dependent on microclimatic conditions and composition of air.

Due to the extraordinary longevity of lichens, they can be used for dating the age of various objects over the range of several decades to thousands of years, based on measurements of their thallus.

Lichens were chosen as an object of global monitoring due to the fact that they are widespread on earth and their response to external influence is very strong, whereas their own variability is small and extremely slow compared to other organisms.

Epiphytic lichens (or epiphytes), i.e. lichens growing on bark of trees, are characterized with the most sensitivity among all ecological groups of lichens. Study of these species in large cities of the world revealed a number of general patterns: the more industrialized the city is, the fewer species of lichens are found; the less the total area of the tree trunk is covered with lichens, the lower the vitality of the lichens.

It has been discovered that when the level of air pollution increases, first fruticose lichens disappear, then foliaceous lichens, and the last ones to disappear are crustose (cork-forming) forms of lichens. Composition of lichen flora in different areas of a city (in the center, in industrialized districts, in parks and in the outlying districts) turned out to vary so great that researchers began to use lichens as indicators of air pollution.

A Swedish scientist, R.Sernander, conducted one of the first studies in this field in 1926. He pointed out a Уlichen desertФ in Stockholm (a center of the city and industrialized areas with high level of air pollution) where lichens were almost completely absent. He also noted a Уcompetition zoneФ (districts of the city with average level of air pollution) where the number of lichens was poor, and a Уnormal zoneФ (outlying districts of the city) where many species of lichens were found.

Recently it was shown that among all components of polluted air, sulfur dioxide (SO2) has the strongest negative influence on lichens. It was experimentally proven that a concentration of sulfur dioxide equal to 0.03 Ц 0.1 mg/m3 (30-100 microgram/cubic meter) had an impact on many species of lichens. At that concentration, brown spots appear in chloroplasts of alga cells and degradation of chlorophyll begins. A concentration of sulfur dioxide equal to 0.5mg/ cubic meter is harmful (even destructive) for all lichen species found in natural landscapes. There is a group of poleotolerant species (resistant to pollution), that can exist in rather polluted air.

In addition to sulfur dioxide, other pollutants including nitrogen oxides (NO, NO2), carbon oxides (CO, CO2) and fluorine compounds also have an adverse effect on lichens. Moreover, microclimatic conditions in cities have changed greatly from their natural origins: cities are УdrierФ in cities, compared to natural landscapes (approximately 5% drier) and 1-3% warmer. Cities are also characterized by poorer natural illumination.

With this information in mind, lichens serve as integral indicators of the state of the environment. The presence of Lichens in general indicates that abiotic factors are favorable for life.

Most chemical compounds, having a negative impact on the flora of lichens, represent the main chemical elements and substances found in the emissions of most industrial objects. This information allows us to use lichens as indicators of the anthropogenic load.

All the above-mentioned factors helped to determine the application of lichens and lichen bioindication in the system of global environmental monitoring. The present lesson is also based on attempts to use lichens as bioindicators of the state of environment. This lesson is aimed at assessment of spatial differences in air pollution based on the use of lichens.

The following items will be required for the lesson: transparent overlay grid, measuring tapes with millimeter points (1 meter long) and a compass.

General procedure of the research

This research, like many other studies devoted to environmental monitoring, is rather difficult and has many different aspects. In this section, we will provide a general description of the research as a whole, and then the following sections will focus on specific rules of lichenoindication studies, techniques of material collection, and methods of...


This was only the first page from the manual and its full version you can see in the

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set:

It is possible to purchase the complete set of 40 seasonal Ecological Field Study Materials (video in mpg + manuals in pdf formats) in an attractive 4 compact disk set. These compact disks are compatible with Mac and PC computers. The teacher background information and manuals can be printed out for easy reference. The videos are suitable for individual student or whole class instruction. To purchase the complete 4CD set write to in a free form.

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set

Some of these manuals you can also purchase in the form of applications for Android devices on Google Play.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk:

We also have a free and interesting demonstration disk that explains our ecological field studies approach. The demo disk has short excerpts from all the seasonal field study videos as well as sample text from all the teacher manuals. The disk has an entertaining automatic walk through which describes the field study approach and explains how field studies meet education standards.

You can also download the Demo Disc from This is a virtual hybrid (for PC and Mac computers) CD-ROM image (one 563 Mb file "CD_Demo.iso"). You can write this image to the CD and use it in your computer in ordinary way. You also can use emulator software of virtual CD-ROM drive to play the disk directly from your hard disk.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk


Other Ecological Field Studies Instructive Manuals:

Autumn Season

  1. Orienteering in the Forest
  2. Procedure of the Geological Exposure Description
  3. Plotting a Profile of a River Valley Slope
  4. Simple Procedure of Soil Description
  5. Assessment of the Vital State of a Forest Based on Pine-tree Analysis
  6. Study of Species Composition and Number of Fungi
  7. Study of Species Composition and Census of Birds Using the Line Transect-counting Method
  8. Integrated Study Based on Landscape Profile
  9. Complex Environmental Assessment of Human Impact on an Area
  10. Assessment of Air Pollution by Lichen Indication Method

Winter Season

  1. Making a Campfire
  2. Simple УEyeФ Survey of the Field Study Site
  3. Study of Growth Dynamics of Trees Based on Annual Rings
  4. Mapping Forest Vegetation
  5. Green Plants Under Snow
  6. Methods of Observation of a Chickadee Flock's Territorial Behavior
  7. Procedure of Winter Mammals Route Census by Footprints
  8. Study of Mammal Ecology According to Their Tracks
  9. Physical and Chemical Properties of Natural Waters
  10. Study of Snow Cover Profile

Spring Season

  1. Let's Help Birds!
  2. Study of the Ecology of Early Flowering Plants
  3. Phenology of Plant Florescence
  4. Assessment of the Vital State of Coniferous Underbrush
  5. Study of Forest Invertebrates (Part I: Forest Litter, Wood)
  6. Studies of Species Composition and Abundance of Amphibians
  7. Studying Minerals and Rocks in Your Area
  8. Studies of the Day Activity of Singing Birds
  9. Studies of Bird Populations Size by Different Methods
  10. Study of Fauna of Spring Temporary Water Bodies

Summer Season

  1. Making a Herbarium
  2. The Study of Plants in Your Local Environment
  3. Study of the Vertical Structure of a Forest
  4. Study of Forest Invertebrates (Part 2: Grass Layer, Tree Crowns and Air)
  5. Study of BirdsТ Nesting Life
  6. Complex Comparative Description of Small Rivers and Streams
  7. The Study of Water Invertebrates in a Local River and Assessment of Its Environmental State
  8. Study of Plankton
  9. Assessment of Ecological Features of Meadows on the Base of Vegetation Cover
  10. Assessment of Environmental State of the Forest Based on LeavesТ Asymmetry

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© Ёкологический центр "Ёкосистема"Щ, ј.—. Ѕоголюбов / © Field Ecology Center "Ecosystem"Щ, Alexander Bogolyubov, 2001-2017