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Hundreds of plant and lichen species are overlooked victims of climate change 

As the global threat of climate change escalates, an alarming new study from Pennsylvania State University has revealed a lack of preparation for its impact on endangered plant and lichen species. 

The research, led by Amy Casandra Wrobleski and her team, is a stark reminder that while our attention is often focused on the larger, more charismatic species under threat, the planet’s smaller and less obvious life forms are also at severe risk.

Endangered plant and lichen species

The researchers investigated the future of 771 endangered plant and lichen species, all listed under the Endangered Species Act. Astonishingly, every single one of them is found to be susceptible to the ramifications of climate change. 

However, despite this profound vulnerability, there is a noticeable absence of strategies designed to counteract this looming danger.

Endangered species, already in a precarious position due to their rarity, are anticipated to suffer most from the negative effects of climate change. 

A substantial proportion of the organisms recognized under the Endangered Species Act are plants and lichens, a fact that somehow has failed to prompt any significant, systematic evaluation of the risks they face from climate change for more than a decade.

Focus of the study

To investigate, Wrobleski’s team repurposed tools initially created to evaluate the threat of climate change to wild animals. 

This novel approach allowed the researchers to assess the sensitivity of the 771 listed plant species to climate change, determine if climate change was officially acknowledged as a threat to each species, and if any measures were in progress to confront this challenge.

What the researchers learned 

The results of the analysis showed that climate change, at least to some degree, threatens all of the listed plant and lichen species. 

While a large portion of the formal documentation for these species did identify climate change as a threat, initiatives designed to protect the species were found to be greatly lacking.

Targeted strategies are needed

The authors of the study, while emphasizing the urgency of acknowledging climate change as a clear and present danger to these plant species, stress that this recognition alone is not enough. 

They call for proactive steps to be undertaken immediately to assure the survival and recovery of many of these species. 

As climate conditions continue to evolve over the next century, establishing explicit and targeted strategies will be crucial for successful species recovery.

Wrobleski and her team hope that their findings will be employed in future conservation planning for endangered plants and lichens. They also propose that their research be taken into account when deciding on listings of new species and planning their recovery efforts.

“We evaluated the conservation plans for all endangered plant and lichen species listed in the Endangered Species Act and found that while climate change is recognized as a threat to the species, few conservation plans include actions to address climate change directly,” said the researchers.

“Climate change will not only impact the lives of people, but also rare and endangered species and the ecosystems we interact with every day.”

The research is published in the open-access journal PLOS Climate,

More about endangered lichen species

Lichens, an often-overlooked member of the world’s biodiversity, are an incredible life form. They are composite organisms that arise from a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and one or more photosynthetic partners, usually algae or cyanobacteria. 

This unique partnership allows lichens to colonize habitats from deserts to polar ice caps, making them one of the most resilient life forms on Earth

Despite their resilience, lichens are not immune to the threats posed by human activity, particularly climate change. 


Given their unique life history and habitat requirements, lichens can be extremely sensitive to changes in their environment. Temperature shifts, alterations in rainfall patterns, pollution, and habitat destruction can all negatively impact lichen populations.

Ecological importance 

Lichens play a crucial role in ecosystems around the world. They contribute to the cycling of nutrients in the environment, serve as food and habitat for a variety of organisms, and play a significant role in soil formation. 

Furthermore, lichens are known to be bioindicators – their presence, absence, or abundance can provide valuable information about the health of an ecosystem.

Lack of public awareness

Despite their ecological importance, lichens are often neglected in conservation planning. This is partially due to a lack of public awareness and understanding, and also because they can be challenging to study due to their slow growth rates and complex life cycles.

However, the research by Amy Casandra Wrobleski and her team at Penn State highlights the urgent need for further research and conservation efforts focused on these unique and ecologically vital organisms. 

The study shows that all lichens listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act are at least slightly threatened by climate change, yet few plans are in place to address this threat. The research is a call to action for scientists, conservationists, and policymakers to increase their efforts to understand and protect these unique organisms.


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