What says 'I love you' better than lichen?

There are few opportunities in life to immortalize someone you love or respect.

Here's one, name a lichen after them. Doing so will bind the name of your special person forever to the registers of science, and perhaps help preserve Wells Gray Provincial Park and old-growth forest along the way.

Clearwater lichenologist Trevor Goward is offering up two chances to name new species of lichen he recently discovered. The right to name the species will go those who bid the highest amount in an online silent auction.

The auction is being run by The Land Conservancy, which is in the process of raising money to acquire parcels of private land near Wells Gray to preserve crucial wildlife corridors. Money raised in the lichen-naming auctions will help the effort.

Goward said opportunities to name new species do not come along often. Traditionally, new species are named by those who find them. In the course of his career, Goward said he has classified about 20 new kinds of lichen and expects maybe he will have the chance to name only a few more.

Lichen is a plant-like organism consisting of a fungus that partners with algae or bacteria. Lichen occurs in some of the most extreme environments on Earth, including the Arctic, deserts, rocky costs and high-altitude alpine. Lichens have long been used in making dyes and perfumes, as well as in traditional medicines.

Goward said the lichens he has found both live in Wells Gray park, although it is found in other places as well.

One of the species is long and black, looking like "witch's hair" hanging from trees. The other is white, a leafy looking thing, with long lobes and grows on trees in Interior rain forests.

While Goward's short-term interest is in seeing money raised for the wildlife corridor project, he has long-term motivations as well.

He sees this sort of contest as a form of "taxonomic tithing," an opportunity for researchers and the public to work together for the betterment of the environment.

"In the long haul, it works out to a new means of raising money for conservation," he said.

Goward believes the contest will work best if groups of people band together and place a bid, hoping to win the honour of naming a species for someone they admire or respect, a distinguished member of the community, perhaps, or even a respected political leader.

The late Jack Layton comes to mind, he said. He sees this kind of contest as a way to link science and philanthropy in a meaningful way.

"To connect a little bit to some of the species that inhabit this world is not a bad thing."

The only provision is that the name proposed for the new species must be able to be latinized, Goward said.

"As the winner of this contest, this auction, they can name the lichens after themselves, their mother, their company," Goward said. "One way or another you can latinize anything.

"I will prepare a description of the species . . . and that name would adhere to that lichen for as long as our civilization exists."

If one day that lichen is found to hold a cure for a serious disease, researchers may well look back with interest to see how the species was named.

"Everybody talks about 15 minutes of fame. This extends the fame. It might be very faint fame, but the name will always be known to somebody.

How much will the contest raise? Difficult to know, Goward said.

He noted a recent similar competition to name a new species of monkey found in South America was sold for $650,000. He does not expect naming a lichen will generate the same kind of interest, but he hopes people will see value.

The current bid is at $4,000. The contest runs until December.

"There is no reason this has to go to Bill Gates or someone with an awful lot of money. If there is someone that people feel should have this honour, especially someone who was an outdoors person, this would be the perfect way to do it," he said.

"I would like to see it become a thing you do to honour people."

To have a chance to win the auction, visit The Land Conservancy's website at http://blog.conservancy.bc.ca.


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