Methods for obtaining more complete species lists in surveys of lichen biodiversity

Submitted by nordicjbotany on 26 August 2016.

Who finds more, wins

By the authors Jan Vondrák & Jiří Malíček

One can get unusual thoughts in pubs and wine bars - and a few of them still seem sensible the next day. Sitting with a glass of wine, we were once struck by the thought that floristic inventories might be more complete if they were performed as a competition among several recorders, preferably specialists. Suddenly, it seemed absurd that we had not ever heard about a competition who records more species, wins (except for competitions among bird watchers). When we put the idea to the test, it turns out that it actually works: competition among specialists is an excellent method for obtaining lichen biodiversity inventories.

Why did we run the experiment?

When we extracted data from about forty studies contributing to knowledge of lichen diversity in Central European old-growth forests, we realized that none of them provided a full (or even close to full) species list for their locality. It was obvious that their lists missed species that must be present, for instance canopy lichens or tiny microlichens. The substantial under-estimate of lichen diversity in most studies is caused by recording data in a way that is essentially random, without any more sophisticated field methods. Our challenge was to develop a method of lichen inventory that provides more complete species lists and that enables comparison among localities. Our results show that the method who records more species, wins meets this challenge.

 The experiment in a flood-plain forest

The wine bar idea was realised in spring 2014. We assembled a team of eight European field lichenologists and surveyed an 11 hectare old-growth forest remnant (nature reserve Cahnov) in a flood-plain territory in southern Moravia. The main experiment, performed as a competition who records more species, wins, was held over two days and each competing researcher recorded lichens in each of 12 one-hour periods. After collating and analyzing data from all researchers we obtained species accumulation curves for individual researchers as well as the total curve ( ). (Qualitatively, the results were as expected - more researchers is better - but the magnitude of the effect astonished us: individual researchers recorded only 45% to 66% of the total 194 species. This simple result demonstrates how important the multi-expert approach is in lichen inventory jobs. We are also convinced that the element of competition plays a role in obtaining more complete species list. Although the effect of competition among lichenologists cannot easily be tested and quantified, it is an obvious consequence of human nature.

Subsequent research

More recently we have used the multi-expert inventory method with competitive element in large virgin forests in Ukrainian Carpathians and in North-western Caucasus. The results are similar to the original experiment: individual researchers recorded only about half of all recorded species. However, these newer projects were further refined to better facilitate the comparison of data from lichen diversity surveys, incorporating a method movable hot-spot plots (not yet published).


Vondrák, J. et al. Methods for obtaining more complete species lists in surveys of lichen biodiversity. 10.1111/njb.01053