How many species

In 2 of my classes we are talking about what exactly is meant by the word “species”.  Its a slippery concept, much more so than most people think I bet.  When are two things “different enough” to warrant a species designation?  When they can’t reproduce?  Consider the chihuahua and the great dane – nearly indistinguishable genetically but even Barry White and low light can’t make that union happen.  Or the African Helmeted Guinea Fowl, which can mate and produce offspring with the domestic chicken – those are different families seperated by ~55 million years.  That is about the same amount of time that seperates humans and lemurs and thats all I am going to say about *that*. 

While I was walking through our little forest to the pond to get muddy water for the students to hunt for protists, I found this stick and a leaf attached to it.

I grabbed it because the brown lichen is something I hadn’t noticed before.  Me not noticing something is hardly notable, but the more I look at lichens in the microscope the more fascinated I am.  I wish the stereo microscope had an easy camera setup so I could show you the surfaces of these things; they are as bizarre as [insert your favorite cliche here].  Look at this picture showing the underside of the leaf – notice the little white patch – that is what is holding on to the leaf.

That white patch in the microscope had the coolest texture to it – almost fibrous. Reminded me of a fungus. You can’t really appreciate it from this picture, but that white patch is part of the brown lichen, or at least on top of it.

I will leave you with the above picture.  How many species are there?  I am thinking 2 maybe 3 different lichens, a plant and a fungus.  I heart my job.

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About SubOptimist

I am an Associate Professor in the Science Department at Georgia Perimeter College, Clarkston. I teach introductory biology courses at both the majors and non-majors level in addition to microbiology. Previous to that I spent 7 years as a postdoctoral researcher on different viruses. While I don't miss being on the "grant treadmill", I think better when I write and miss writing up data for papers and grants; this blog helps me with that a little. And sometimes my kids' insanely funny and cute antics need to be shared with the world. Any view expressed in this blog is that of me personally and not Georgia Perimeter College or the GPC Clarkston Science Department.
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