Lichens surprisingly precise air quality monitors

Lichens, combinations of fungi and algae, are quietly trodden underfoot by animals and hikers the world over. Now a new study by a Brigham Young University father-son team has demonstrated that lichens could replace expensive environmental monitors since they accumulate some pollutants in concentrations that correctly manifest the amount of the pollutants in the surrounding air. “Previously, we knew that lichens took things up from the air, but no one had any significant results indicating that what is in the lichen accurately reflects what is in the air,” said Larry St. Clair, the chair of BYU’s department of integrative biology and co-author of the study published in the latest issue of “Atmospheric Environment.” “This is the first definitive data that shows not only do lichens take pollution up from the air, but they take it up in patterns that exactly reflect the amount of pollutants in the air.”

Popular weed killer feminizing America’s frogs

Bad news, guys. Native male leopard frogs throughout the nation’s Corn Belt are being feminized by an herbicide, atrazine, used extensively to kill weeds on the country’s leading export crops, corn and soybeans, according to a study at the University of California at Berkeley. The Berkeley biologists also report male frogs raised in laboratory tanks contaminated with atrazine develop egg cells in their testes and essentially turn into hermaphrodites.