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Looking for lichens

Biology student puts classroom lessons to practical use  in the Arcata Community Forest

Matthew Pedrotti, a senior biology major with an ecology and biodiversity emphasis, spends much of his free time on campus exploring the nearby Arcata Community Forest in order to locate and classify various plants.

“Look at the lichen in its natural habitat,” Pedrotti said on a walk through the forest.

Pedrotti said he is particularly fond of lichens, which is the union of a fungus and an algae.

“I find them fascinating,” Pedrotti said. “They’re very diverse.”

Pedrotti said he carries a hand lens in his pocket at all times.

“I can’t leave home without it,” Pedrotti said.

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Matthew Pedrotti describes some of the vegetative features of lichens found on an alder twig in the Arcata Community Forest. Photo by Walter Hackett

According to Pedrotti, he could spot with his naked eye at least three microlichens and at least two other macrolichens from an alder twig he found.

“This alder twig is an example of how speciose [rich in species] lichens are in nature,” Pedrotti said. “Lichens are excellent ecosystem health indicators.”

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An alder twig displaying multiple species of lichens in the Arcata Community Forest. Photo by Walter Hackett

“The black spots of this microlichen are actually sexually reproductive organs,” Pedrotti said.

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Matthew Pedrotti dissects a cotoneaster fruit to reveal seeds in the Arcata Community Forest. Photo by Walter Hackett

Pedrotti said he thinks HSU is unique because it has an accessible community forest right next to campus. The forest provides plant specimens to examine such as cotoneaster fruit.

“Fun fact, cotoneaster is highly related to apples and pears,” Pedrotti said.

However, Pedrotti said that just because it’s called a fruit, it doesn’t mean that it is edible to humans.

“Yeah, I would not eat these,” Pedrotti said.

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