Undiscovered backyard biodiversity: New lichen species discovered in Guelph, Canada

You might think that the discovery of new species requires travel to distant and less explored parts of the world. In fact, they can still be found in our own backyards.

During a recent survey for lichens in The Arboretum at the University of Guelph, my colleagues and I discovered a new species of lichen, Chaenotheca selvae (McMullin et al. 2018).

A close up image of a stubble lichen species.

Chaenotheca selvae, a new species of lichen discovered in Guelph, Canada. Troy McMullin © Canadian Museum of Nature.

We named the species in honour of emeritus University of Maine professor, Dr. Steven Selva, for his more than three decades of important contributions to the study of stubble lichens and fungi, or calicioids, the group to which C. selvae belongs.

Stubble lichens and fungi are small (0.1 to 2 millimetres tall) stalked species that resemble facial stubble on the tree trunks and branches on which they live. They’re so small that they are often difficult to find, which might explain why the new species was overlooked until now.

We discovered 111 species of lichens and allied fungi in The Arboretum, including a new species to Canada, Caloplaca soralifera, and more than a dozen rare species, such as Bacidina egenula, which is only the third record of this species in Ontario (McMullin et al. 2014).


Bacidina egenula, known to occur at only three locales in Ontario. Troy McMullin © Canadian Museum of Nature.

Our research highlights the importance of protecting old-growth forests, particularly in areas where few remain, such as southern Ontario, as sources of rare and undiscovered biodiversity.

Chaenotheca selvae is also a tiny but powerful reminder that when we look carefully, new species await discovery right in our own backyards.


McMullin, R.T., J. Maloles, C. Earley, and S.G. Newmaster. 2014. The Arboretum at the University of Guelph, Ontario: An urban refuge for lichen biodiversity. North American Fungi 9: 1-16.

McMullin, R.T., J. Maloles, S. Selva, and S.G. Newmaster. 2018. A synopsis of the genus Chaenotheca in North America, including a new species from southern Ontario, C. selvae. Botany 96: 547–553.

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