Lichen that Lichen

Photo Cred to India Mackinson

This past week, we took a trip to Ocracoke for an overnight retreat. One of the things that we did while on our retreat was tour Portsmouth Island, an abandoned settlement across Ocracoke Inlet. The town was primarily a fishing village and had a peak population of approximately 680 but a combination of economic and environmental hardships steadily forced people off the island. The last residents left the island in 1971 and since then the island has been a historic site with some standing building for tourists, OBXers, and ex-Portsmouth residents to visit.

The island is home to a very prominent maritime forest as well and within the forest, there are lichens carpeting the ground. To be honest, I barely knew what lichens were when we got to the island but I was intrigued by them when I saw them. Therefore, I decided to look into their ecology so that I could better understand their value to ecosystems.

At first glance, I think most can recognize that lichens are a sort of fungus and that is partly true. Lichens are actually a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae or in some cases, cyanobacteria, and are an important part of the biological soil crust (Ahmadjian, 2017).  In the relationship, the algae or cyanobacteria photosynthesizes while the fungi works in the acquisition of water and nutrients (Luecking, 2016). They are found across all terrestrial habitats and can also be found in aquatic and marine habitats. Lichens are known for being able to thrive in the harshest of regions, such as boreal forests, on any kind of inanimate object and play a large role in the wellbeing of these ecosystems (Ahmadjian, 2017). Much of the research that has been done on lichens has been on the European and North American continents and so there is still a lot unknown about the ecology of lichens (Will-Wolf, 2006). Although, studies do theorize that there are a similar number of species in all kinds of regions (Luecking, 2016) It is known that they offer significant habitat and food for invertebrates and small vertebrates in harsh ecosystems too (Zedda and Rambold, 2015).

Furthermore, lichens have ecological value as bioindicators and biomonitors of pollution and air quality (Jovan, 2008). Studies show that lichens are very sensitive to air pollution and so many people have begun using them as a way to monitor for specific pollutants and overall air quality. The presence of lichens on Portsmouth could point to this trait of lichens since the island is largely cut off from human disturbances. Lichens have also been found to be a cheaper way to monitor air quality than most conventional methods (Luecking, 2016). Lastly, since lichens are so sensitive to environmental change and anthropogenic impacts, they have been cited as a good indicator of climate change (Aptroot, 2009).

At face value, lichens seemed to be just an aesthetically pleasing part of the ecosystem on Portsmouth Island. But after some research, it is clear to me that they play a much larger role within the island’s maritime forest and the global ecosystems.

Works Cited:

Ahmadjian, Vernon. (2017). Lichens. In AccessScience. McGraw-Hill Education.

Aptroot, A. (2009). Lichens as an indicator of climate and global change. In Climate change: Observed impacts on Planet Earth. Edited by T. M. Letcher, 401–408. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Elsevier B.V

Jovan, S. (2008). Lichen bioindication of biodiversity, air quality, and climate: baseline results from monitoring in Washington, Oregon, and California. Portland, OR: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Luecking R., Will-Wolf S. (2016). Lichen Ecology. Oxford Bibliographies on Ecology. Oxford University Press.

Will-Wolf, S., L. H. Geiser, P. Neitlich, and A. Reis. (2006). Comparison of lichen community composition with environmental variables at regional and subregional geographic scales. In Journal of Vegetation Science.

Zedda L., Rambold G. (2015) The Diversity of Lichenised Fungi: Ecosystem Functions and Ecosystem Services. In: Upreti D., Divakar P., Shukla V., Bajpai R. (eds) Recent Advances in Lichenology. Springer, New Delhi


A Dopamine Pre-Thanksgiving Week

Howdy there people. Your host for the pre-Thanksgiving week OBX blog post is none other than Kurt… wait for it… Nelson.

As you may know by now, the beginning of each week and every other Wednesday is reserved for internships. Personally, I have been doing a lot of research on European energy policy, specifically Germany, and I’ve learned some interesting stuff (fun fact: approximately half of German renewable energy is owned by everyday citizens!). Everyone else is up to their regular (electric) internship duties too: Mark is installing doggy poop bag holders in Nags Head Woods, Emily Inkrote is still looking at dolphin fins, and Paris is making the OBX a safer place at court. God only knows what Cassandra has been doing though (Just kidding, she’s been working with sea turtle eggs).

On Tuesday, we had a super full day of classes and Capstone work that ended with our second to last CAB meeting. During the CAB meeting, we presented the human dimensions and scientific methods and preliminary results of our Capstone project. The presentation gave us a chance to make some preliminary observations and an excuse to begin compiling our thoughts. The CAB gave us some great advice at the end of the presentation and we can’t thank them enough for continuing to advise us over the semester.

Thursday was another full day of classes and meetings. We got to some fun stuff on Thursday though such as taking a hiking trip to Nags Head Woods where we learned about the ecology of maritime forests. It was nice to get out of the classroom and also educational to actually be able to see what we were learning about. After the trip to Nags Head Woods, Bill Smyth met with us over coffee and snacks in order to discuss public speaking. It was very helpful to get some feedback from him and now we can give a better Capstone presentation in December. Thank you Bill, you have been so kind, hospitable, and enlightening during our stay here on the Outer Banks!

Brett strikes a pose in Nags Head Woods while he listens to Lindsay teach us about maritime forests.

The final day of the week was also (you guessed it) another full day. Lindsay picked us up in the morning so that we could all go to the Manteo Division of Marine Fisheries Field Office. We were given a tour of the office and learned about how the division provides recommendations through scientific studies to policy makers. We also got to see a red drum get its otolith taken out, which is used to identify a fish’s age. Brett was very enthused to see the fish get cut open (not really though).

The red drum with its otolith removed.
A Division of Marine Fisheries biologist discusses significant fish in NC for fisheries management while I listen intently.

And finally, everyone celebrated Friendsgiving together at the Elizabeth II Guesthouse on Friday night by making a Thanksgiving-esque dinner. It was a scrumptious meal and helped us to prepare for our Thanksgiving meal next week.

The Friendsgiving Feast!

Thanks for reading and have a great Thanksgiving!

(Solar) Electric Outer Banks Avenue

Howdy there party people, I’m Kurt and the past few months I’ve been up to some real electric stuff. But really though, I’ve been working with Solar Services Inc., which is a solar installation group out of Virginia Beach. I have had the pleasure to work alongside many of the staff at Solar Services but Arthur Fichter, the sales representative of the organization, has primarily mentored me during my internship.

My internship is split into two intersecting parts: Outer Banks solar development and general research on the solar industry. Outer Banks solar development is the main goal of my internship but the research has assisted me in in promoting solar. In order to promote solar development on the Outer Banks, I have been reaching out to OBX town managers in order to discuss the possibility of installing affordable solar projects in their respective towns. Through this process, I have learned a lot about how towns make decisions but also about the ins and outs of installing solar.

My days every Monday and every other Wed vary greatly due to the two-pronged nature of my internship. Some days my internship is more research based and other days my internship is more about solar development. At the beginning of the semester, my internship was much more solar development based. During September, I got the chance to go to the Nags Head Town Hall where Arthur, Corey Adams (my research mentor), and I talked to the town planner and manager. We came up with two different potential solar projects for the town: one for a new construction and one for an existing building. After the meeting, Arthur and I took some rough measurements of the existing building so that the Solar Services design manager could begin a proposal for the town.

The following week, I drove up to Virginia Beach in order to learn from Will, the Solar Services design specialist, about how to design rooftop solar arrays and how to craft a solar estimate. It was an enlightening experience and one of the best days of my internship despite the two-hour drive. The proposal and estimate for Nags Head was finalized and sent in the week after my visit to Solar Services; although, the town will now need to vote on and finance the proposal, which will take at least a couple more months. Therefore, Arthur and I have begun speaking with other towns such as Manteo in order to promote more solar for the Outer Banks.

When I’m not driving to Virginia Beach or talking to OBX town officials, I am researching the global solar industry in order to supplement my knowledge for the solar development part of my internship. Topics I have touched on are US laws on net metering, European renewable energy, and current events surrounding the US solar industry. One topic I have covered extensively is the Suniva International Trade Commission case. For those who are unfamiliar, Suniva is a bankrupt US based PV cell and module manufacturer that is calling for tariffs on cheap imported PV cells and modules. The US solar industry is booming at the moment so the industry is predominantly opposed to the tariff recommendations of Suniva because these tariffs could ravage the US solar market. The ITC recently submitted recommendations to President Trump, which incorporated some tariff measures but nothing remotely close to the industry killing Suniva proposals.

Overall, I have very much enjoyed my internship and would like to thank Corey and Arthur for helping me along. I have been interested in the solar industry for quite sometime now and it is awesome to see how the industry works from the inside.