This thesis is the culmination of a graduate research project involving a floristic survey of the lichens of the Spring Mountain National Recreation Area (SMNRA), Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Nevada. The project was based on extensive collections made between 1997 and 2007 as part of an air pollution biomonitoring program and a baseline established by Larry St. Clair (BYU). The Spring Mountains are a sky island mountain range in the Mojave Desert located less than an hour northwest of Las Vegas. A floristic survey of the lichen communities in the Spring Mountains represents a major addition to our understanding of the lichen flora of the Mojave Desert, a poorly studied region in western North America. This thesis also compares the lichen flora of the SMNRA with other lichen floras of the Mojave Desert based on a literature survey of all the lichen studies conducted in the Mojave Desert. The SMNRA species list represents 58% of the 217 species in 68 genera reported for the Mojave Desert. This survey of all reported Mojave lichen species reveals several interesting interactions related to species diversity, substrate, and growth form distribution patterns. These interactions appear to be influenced by two general factors: Microhabitat conditions and available substrates – which are further defined by differences in geological substrates, occurrence and development of woody plant communities, and a combination of environmental factors – elevation, temperature, precipitation, and insolation. Drier and warmer habitats are generally dominated by crustose species with some, mostly smaller, foliose taxa in protected microhabitats usually with shaded or northern exposures. Fruticose species are generally lacking or sparse with smaller thalli when found in hot and dry habitats. All the fruticose species reported from the Mojave Desert sites were rare and had very small thalli. Many foliose and fruticose species, with larger, more complex thalli and thus greater surface area, are more susceptible to higher rates of water loss and therefore occur less frequently in extreme arid locations. The lichen communities in the Mojave Desert respond to sharp contrasts in microhabitat conditions with exposed, lower elevation sites having lower numbers of species along with more drought resistant growth forms – crustose and squamulose species. The Spring Mountains NRA, with high elevation mountains and well developed woody plant communities, accommodates a large variety of microhabitat conditions spread over a complex temperature and moisture gradient. These conditions have resulted in the highest species diversity (124 species in 48 genera) and the greatest number of foliose and corticolous species when compared with all of the other Mojave Desert lichen floras.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Biology



Date Submitted


Document Type





Air quality, biomonitoring, lichens, Mojave Desert, floristic survey, microhabitat, Spring Mountains National Recreation Area, desert, Las Vegas, air pollution, species diversity



Included in

Biology Commons