Lichens are symbiotic relationship
between fungus and algae.
Fungus: dominant partner (lichen classified as fungus); provides stability and support; catches water in the form of rain, moisture (even from unsaturated air), fog; minerals dissolved in water; prevents algae from drying out.
Algae: carries out photosynthesis and produces different sugar types used by fungus; food and energy supply to fungus; several hundred species (mostly endemic in an area they occur); colours: green, orange, grey, brown to black.
Forms: 1) crustose - attached flat on a rocks/gypsum soil or crust; 2) foliose - with aerial parts standing up of soil surface; 3) wind-blown - not attached; collected at depressions/obstacles.
Survival - grow several thousand years old. Live in circumstances intolerable to other plants. Survive unpredictable climate, low temperatures, low light intensity, poor soil. Can take up moisture from unsaturated air.
Importance in ecosystem: first plants to cover bare spaces (protection against wind and water erosion); food supply to larger animals (springbok); form a microclimate which makes other life possible.
Human use: acids from lichens used to produce colourants, perfumes and antibiotics.
Human interference: lichens are sensitive to pollution; first to die in an unbalanced nature; physical destruction takes years to recover (e.g. car tracks).
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