For a long time scientists didn’t know what to do with lichens. Are they plant? Are the fungus? What are they? Some guy at one point suggested that they weren’t a single organism, but a collection of both fungus and algae/ cyanobacteria, living together. One provided protection and nutrients, the other provides the energy. This notion of two species coming together in a seemingly single organism was challenged by many at the time since it flew in the face of Darwin’s concept of divergent evolution that was just becoming widely accepted, but eventually a new term was created to describe the relationship between the species that make up lichen, and in turn all species that evolve convergently; symbiosis.

As unassuming as lichens are when you see them growing on rocks and trees on hikes, or really anywhere, they cover more of the Earth’s surface than tropical rainforests do (though perhaps these days, that is not such an impressive feat). Not only that, but many of them can survive the harsh conditions of space and Mars, unlike the majority of single-specied organisms.

Symbiosis allows these little cluster of organisms to go further than any other organism could manage alone. Our society is obsessed with competition and with weeding out what doesn’t work, which shockingly has led to the detriment of nearly every ecosystem on the planet. Maybe we should take a page from natural history’s playbook and focus a little more on lichenization.


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