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Last Updated: Monday, 18 September 2006, 12:28 GMT 13:28 UK
Insight into sex life of lichens
Lichens reproduce in different ways to keep colonies thriving
Experts have revealed details of the "remarkable" sex life of lichens in a new travelling exhibition.

The study explains how lichens either "blast" out algae and fungi to form new colonies or form surface "pegs" which are broken off and spread by animals.

Scottish Natural Heritage said the fungus provides a home for the alga which in turn provides it with food.

The Secret Life of Lichens can be seen at Chatelrault Country Park, Hamilton, until November, before touring the UK.

It features a giant lichen more than one metre square, complete with the eruptions and growths which are part of the lichen's unusual reproductive methods.

Lichens are among Scotland's least understood native species and are made up of both fungi and algae.

They can live for thousands of years and their presence indicates a healthy environment
Dr David Genney

Dr David Genney, SNH's species advisor for lower plants and fungi, said: "Lichens are intriguing because each one is made up of two species.

"Their unusual sex life is just one aspect of a dual existence as part fungi and part algae.

"This exhibition is a great opportunity for people to learn about this little understood part of Scotland's wildlife and some of the work being done to protect our internationally important lichen communities."

Scotland's mild, wet climate means that it supports a wide range of lichens, some of which are unique.

The organisms live on trees and rocks, providing a haven for insects and birds, and research has shown that many species, particularly at the tops of mountains, are sensitive to climate change.

Dr Genney added: "They can live for thousands of years and their presence indicates a healthy environment as they are very sensitive to air quality."

The exhibition has been funded by SNH, South Lanarkshire Council, and the British Lichen Society.

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