Lichen-induced biomodification of calcareous surfaces: Bioprotection versus biodeterioration

John P. McIlroy De La Rosa, Patricia A. Warke, Bernard J. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)


Studies demonstrate the active and passive capability of lichens to inhibit or retard the weathering of calcareous surfaces. Lichen coverage may actively protect a surface through shielding by the thallus and the binding and waterproofing of the rock surface and subsurface by fungal hyphae. Passive protection of rock surfaces may be induced by the formation of an insoluble encrustation, such as calcium oxalate, at the lichen-rock interface. Recent research suggests that the decay of hyphae, induced by changes in microenvironmental conditions, necrosis, parasitism or the natural physiological traits of particular lichen species, may expose a chemically and physically weakened substrate to dissolution triggering relatively rapid weathering-related surface lowering. Consequently, certain epilithic crustose and endolithic lichens may induce a period of surface stability throughout the course of their lifespan, followed by a phase of instability and rapid episodic microtopographical evolution after death and decay. A series of conceptual models is proposed to illustrate this idea over short (single lichen lifespan) and long (multiple lichen lifespans) timescales. The models suggest that the microscale biogeomorphological system of lichen-rock interaction is underpinned by nonlinear dynamical system theory as it exhibits dynamical instability and is consequently difficult to predict over a long timescale. Dominance by biodeterioration or bioprotection may be altered by changes in lichen species or in environmental conditions over time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)325-351
Number of pages27
JournalProgress in Physical Geography
Issue number3
Early online date04 Dec 2012
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013


  • biodeterioration
  • biomodification
  • bioprotection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences
  • Geography, Planning and Development


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