In 2007, during an alpine ski touring trip in the backcountry of Parc national de la Gaspésie on the Gaspé Peninsula in eastern Quebec, I noticed a surprisingly rich lichen diversity. This discovery inspired me to begin an ongoing study of the park’s lichens.

I was not the first scientist drawn to Gaspé to explore lichens. In the late 1800’s, John Macoun, Canada’s first Dominion Botanist (and a lichenologist), collected specimens in the area that is now the park. In the early 1900’s, Merrit Fernald, a Harvard University professor and botanist, lead several trips to the region to study its plants and lichens.

A group of researchers pose in the field in 1923.
Merritt Fernald (furthest left) and his 1923 expedition team to the Gaspé Peninsula. Image: © Gray Herbarium Archives, Harvard University.

These pioneering collectors were the first of more than 40 researchers who have studied the park’s lichens. When I began my study, almost 300 lichen species were known in the park. There are now over 600 species, ranking the park among North America’s richest lichen locales.

Many of the new discoveries were made with the help of my colleagues during our annual gathering of lichenologists, the Tuckerman Workshop. We found 100 lichens in the park that had never been reported from Quebec. Twelve of these species are new to Canada and six of those are new to North America.

A yellow lichen, alongside the map of known specimens in North America.
The North American distribution of the limestone sunshine lichen, Vulpicida juniperinus. The population in Parc national de la Gaspésie is marked with a red triangle. Image: R. Troy McMullin © Canadian Museum of Nature.

The rich lichen biota in Parc national de la Gaspésie is due to its diverse habitats, including old-growth woodlands, different forest types, lush river valleys, and a coastal influence. The mountain summits also have arctic-alpine environments and contain species that otherwise only grow in the western mountains and the Arctic. For example, the limestone sunshine lichen Vulpicida juniperinus is at its southern range limit in eastern North America in the park. The closest population occurs over 1000 km to the north.

A view of lush forested park from the peak of a hill.
Parc national de la Gaspésie from the summit of Mount Albert. Image: R. Troy McMullin © Canadian Museum of Nature.

My lichen study in the park will continue until all corners have been explored and the discovery of new species becomes infrequent.