Former KGRNHP naturalist Meg Hahr, left, and the new species of lichens, Coccotrema hahriae, named in her memory.
Photos courtesy National Park Service

Treasure trove of lichens discovered

Species named in honor of Meg Hahr

By GAYLE DEATON

When it comes to lichens, scientists are saying new research indicates the Klondike area harbors the highest number ever found. There are 766 species that have been identified along the 1898-99 Klondike Gold Rush trails in Skagway and Dyea, Alaska.
Lichens are a symbiosis between a fungus and an alga that are sensitive to environmental effects and help scientists in assessing effects of air pollution, climate change and metal contamination.
That’s why such a discovery is exciting to biologists such as Dave Schirokauer who works for the National Park Service in Skagway.
“We made the cover of the international journal of The Bryologists,” Schirokauer said, noting that recent environmental research also identified a new genus in addition to numerous new species of lichens. “To find a new genus, that’s pretty wild.”
In an article appearing in the October 2010 issue of The Bryologist, a team of researchers from Austria, Norway, Spain and the United States report the highest diversity of lichens found anywhere on the North American continent from the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.
While lichen surveys have been completed for only a few national parks in North America, the Klondike survey, funded by the U.S. National Park Service, is notable for edging out some much larger national parks, including 300 more species than Yellowstone, Glacier and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks.
This showed that all of the other top lichen inventories in the world to date have come from middle to high latitudes, unlike in many other organism groups, in which the highest diversity is typically in the tropics.
Perhaps most surprisingly, however, seventy-five species – nearly 10 percent of all species found – are candidates for being new to science because they do not match any known species in a global literature review. Among the notable finds, the authors discovered a new genus of lichens with similarities to rock-dwelling genus Steinera in New Zealand and subantarctic islands. They named the genus Steineropsis, meaning ‘looking like Steinera’.
The authors describe another species, Coccotrema hahriae, in honor of Meg Hahr, the former natural resources program manager of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, who passed away last year.
It was Schirokauer who suggested that one of the species of recently discovered lichens be named in honor of his predecessor.
“Meg actually wrote the proposal that started this off,” Schirokauer said. “It was really her idea to get doing an inventory to the attention of the funders, so it is very fitting one would be named after her.”
The lichens inventory was funded by the National Parks Service and the Municipality of Skagway also contributed to the effort, he said.
Hahr, who had taken a position as chief of science and resource management with the National Park Service at the Painted Rocks National Seashore in Michigan, died suddenly as the result of injuries sustained in a mountain biking accident on June 21, 2009. Schirokauer believes Hahr would have been proud of what the inventory has revealed.
“This is like uncovering a biodiversity hotspot on the order of some of the lost forests in New Guinea or Mozambique” said principal investigator, Toby Spribille, who is a Montana native and current graduate student at the University of Graz in Austria. “This is important information to tie into climate change research. The high latitudes are where the warming in the next century is expected to be the greatest, and while single species like the polar bear are considered threatened by the loss of arctic habitats, climate change is not usually getting translated into potential effects on large numbers of species.”
However, Spribille said in the article that he believes this view may begin to change as scientists discover that peak biodiversity for groups such as lichens may historically reside in the cool, damp forests and tundra of the north.
To read the full journal article on lichens in The Bryologists, visit www.bioone.org/toc/bryo/113/3.

Acting KGRNHP Supertintendent Chuck Young discusses his new posting from his Skagway office. Jeff Brady

Park Service appoints acting superintendent
Chuck Young has been named acting superintendent of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park for the next four months. Young, who arrived in Skagway Nov. 8, will serve in the position while the search for a new superintendent takes place. Former Park Superintendent Susan Boudreau transferred to take a superintendent position at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. “Realistically, my function here is to help support the staff and help keep their programs going and make sure the budget is in order,” Young said. “Usually, when there’s some type of vacancy, the passage of time is tough on a park, tough on a staff, and tough on a community. My job is to help with continuity.”
A San Francisco Bay area native, Young said he was an environmental studies major at the University of California when he first got an opportunity to work for the park service on a part-time basis.
“I’m from the city, but our family used to always go camping, so I was familiar with the outdoors, but I had never really thought of it as a career,” he said. “But I loved the lifestyle. I really got hooked on it.”
He spent four summers working for the NPS and was offered a full-time position after he graduated and never looked back.
Park superintendents oversee all planning and operations that go on in a park area. Currently, Young works as chief ranger at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state. His 32 years of NPS experience and extensive knowledge of both natural and cultural resource protection made him a good fit for the interim position. That coupled with the fact that he really loves being in Alaska.
Young said he jumped at the chance to take the temporary position in Skagway because Southeast Alaska was home to him and his family for 15 years. He worked in Glacier Bay as district ranger and then chief ranger. He and his wife Fawn Bauer who also works for NPS raised their two children there. He said they still consider Gustavus home and they still own a house there.
“I am honored and excited to be coming back to Alaska to serve as the acting Superintendent of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park this winter,” he said.
“I’ll do the best I can to help keep things moving along and try to not upset the apple cart,” he said. “By the same token, there are decisions that need to be made. There’s a great staff here so I just need to help them to continue with what their direction has been.” – GD