CORVALLIS - The first comprehensive book on the Pacific Northwest's lichens - composite organisms that are a key to ecological health and biological diversity - has been published by the Oregon State University Press.

"Macrolichens of the Pacific Northwest" is a 400-page book that provides keys to 495 species of lichens that are known or expected to occur in Oregon and Washington. The book provides full-page, detailed descriptions of more than 200 species, emphasizing those found in forest ecosystems.

Authors Bruce McCune, an associate professor of botany and plant pathology at OSU, and Linda Geiser, an ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service in Corvallis, say there is a growing interest in lichens.

"In addition to their contribution to biological diversity, lichens are ecologically important in the Pacific Northwest as food, shelter and nesting material for wildlife," the authors wrote. A variety of animals, from deer and elk to squirrels, mice and bats, eat lichens or use them in nest-building.

Lichens also are eaten, lived on, or mimicked by grasshoppers, beetles, moths, butterflies, spiders, mites, snails and a variety of other invertebrates.

The new book is notable for its high quality, detailed color photographs, taken by renowned botanical photographers Sylvia and Stephen Sharnoff, whose work recently was featured in National Geographic. New technologies aided the publication; instead of color separations, the photos were reproduced on a CD, allowing more of them to be in the book, according to Jeff Grass, director of the OSU Press.

"This new guide is intended for use by beginners as well as specialists," Grass said. "Weekend naturalists will be able to identify specimens and recognize the great diversity of lichens, while lichenologists and mycologists will gain greater knowledge of the distribution and abundance of various species."

The book was published with the support of the U.S. Forest Service. "Macrolichens of the Pacific Northwest" is available from book stores and libraries, or can be ordered directly from the OSU Press. Write the press at 101 Waldo Hall, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, or call 541-737-3166.

The book is priced at $25.95 plus shipping and handling.

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Tom Booth, 503-282-9801