Collection location: Mont Jaques-Cartier, Parc de la Gaspésie, Quebec, Canada [Click for map]
Locality: 48°59’42.65"N, 65°56’33.63"W, el. 1225 m
Substrate and ecology: Growing on rocks in large boulder fields covering much of the summit area of Mont Jaques-Cartier. There the lichens have been subject to considerable grazing pressure from a resident herd of caribou since the last ice age. We saw about 35 caribou in the area on the day we took these photos, and the effect of their grazing is obvious. The best looking lichens are largely confined to more inaccessible cracks between boulders. In other parts of their range, caribou migrate, even over enormous distances, spreading out their grazing pressure, but on Mont Jaques-Cartier the small herd does not leave the top of the mountain.
Identification: There are two species of Ophioparma in eastern North America, distinguished mainly on the basis of spore characteristics: O. lapponica which has a subarctic distribution extending in eastern North America as far south as Labrador, and O. ventosa which in eastern North America is found from Quebec, Labrador, and Newfoundland to northern New England.
Reference: Philip F. May, Lichen Flora of Eastern North America, The Genus Ophioparma Norman, Eastern Lichen Network
Photos: Stridvalls’ Ophioparma gallery
Common name: alpine bloodspot
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Examine a caribou pellet some day and you can clearly see remains of Bryoria making up a large part of it. (Although, maybe that only applies to the mountain caribou out here in the, ahem, Carbioo range. :) Ande I’ve seen moose scraping the bark off of aspen. But it’s still a significant leap to caribou scraping crustose lichens off of rocks! (Have you tried to extract a specimen of Ophioparma ventosa?? ;) Maybe they break out the cold chisel when no one’s looking…
During the winter, lichens become a principal food for caribou and may account for about 90% of their diet (Brodo, 2001, p.59). Each caribou eats about 3 kg of lichens per day (Pope, “Lichens above Teeline,” p.46). Google has nothing to say about wear and tear on caribou teeth or just exactly how the lichens get from the outside to the inside, but symbiotic bacteria in their rumens help to digest it all once it arrives. Nevertheless, I just googled a paper on the caribou of Banks Island which reports that the “Perry caribou on Banks Island are versatile, broad spectrum grazers that concentrate at all seasons on upland monocots,” so maybe it’s a bit rash to blame the caribou on Mont Jaques-Cartier for all the best lichens taking refuge in the cracks between boulders. Maybe it’s the severe winter weather as well. Ralph Pope also has a fine discussion of lichens as food for humans. The bottom line is that starving explorers ate their boots first, then the lichens.
Of all the things! Must be hard on the teeth. :)