Cornell Researcher Names New Lichen Species Discovered in Bermuda

Exactly 100 years after the first comprehensive lichen biodiversity assessment on Bermuda, Scott LaGreca ’91 has discovered an additional lichen species new to science.

While exploring the Wasingham Nature Reserve, Bermuda’s last remaining primary growth forest, with his colleague Franz Berger in 2007, the pair stumbled across a lichen growing on limestone. Recent examination of the specimen indicated a species never before identified. The tiny, crust-like fungus has been named Lithothelium bermudense, which translates to “Bermuda rock nipple.”

LaGreca and Berger, along with Dutch tropical lichen expert, André Aptroot, published their findings in Mycotaxon, a publication focused on the taxonomy of fungi and founded by Cornell professor Richard Korf, who died in August.

Relatively young by geologic standards (900,000 years old), the islands that make up the Bermuda archipelago are among the most isolated in the world. The terrain of rough limestone in the Wasingham Nature Reserve has largely kept the area undisturbed by human activity. Limestone is relatively scarce in the tropics, and presuming the new species only lives on calcareous rock, the researchers say the new species may have a restricted geographic distribution.

Lithothelium bermudense named by Scott LaGreca '91. (Image: provided)

The recent discovery is the third new fungus species from Bermuda named by LaGreca, and his fourth publication on Bermuda fungi. He is the curator of Cornell’s Plant Pathology Herbarium, the fourth largest mycological herbarium in North America.

LaGreca has always had a passion for plants, which in turn fueled his focus on fungi. As an undergraduate at Cornell, he studied mycology under the instruction of Professor Korf.

Having the research appear in the journal founded by his mentor made it extra meaningful, said LaGreca.

 “Our paper on this new species was the first paper published in that journal after Dr. Korf’s death, and I felt that was my way of commemorating him and thanking him for the guidance he provided me when I was an undergraduate. I think the world of him. He’s the one who got me started in the field,” he said.

LaGreca and his colleagues will continue looking through historic collections in an attempt to develop a complete checklist of lichen fungi on Bermuda. The project is expected to last at least another year, after which he will refocus his efforts on molecular work to study how and when certain lichens arrived on the islands.

Gwen Aviles is a student writer for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences