Best practice for mapping mosses and lichens

If trying to thoroughly map an area for moss and lichen whats the best way to go about it?

I guess this applies to practices for mapping an area full stop, but I´m particularly interested in properly mapping smaller subject matter at a density which GPS won´t accurately pinpoint and trying not to create duplicate observations.

What sort of methods do people use?

The area I am exploring is this one. I have a good overview, but its a little haphazard at the moment - I´m not sure which bits I have or have not mapped.

I’m trying to pin them in as small circle as possible, your spot looks good for that, either remember exact placement of them or make phone pics of environment so it’d be easier to pin it later.


Yeah remembering not an option I think! Not at this location. Its a pretty large heath covered in rocks, mosses and lichens. Though maybe I am misunderstanding your meaning.
Do you have an example of how you are doing it @fffffffff?

I can imagine just being more methodical in theory.
Starting in a single corner and working over an area one sq metre at a time.
Or photographing all the boulders, numbering them, and doing one boulder at a time.
Something like that. Boulders easier than general heathland though…
And even on a single boulder I can get lost with what I´ve documented or not!

Just wondering if there were any nifty tricks to it all…but yeah, I don´t know maybe common sense is sufficient, its just a question of taking time and being more rigourous in my approach :)

It depends on what’s your goal, is it mapping each individual (which is close to impossible), each cluster, each species or something else? I make a photo of habitat (e.g. stone), then photograph and sample everything on it, so I can compare timings and see that photos after xx:xx are of mosses from this rock, and for it you either look at the map ad search it there or try to get close gps signal and again compare it with your photo and change if needed (almost always). I don’t know about amount of work for 1 go, you know better what fits you. It’s needed to say maps are not totally correct, they depend on satellite perspective and when they update they will probably be displaced. If you want it to be a serious work you’d need an own map where you can draw borders which would help you a lot.


OK, I’ll bite. What’s the project that involves this level of resolution?

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Nothing but curiosity I´m afraid!
I guess I presumed this kind of resolution might be nornal to some extent, but maybe not then…

My trigger concerns I guess are that

  • I might be going back to the same area and actually documenting the same mosses repeatedly by accident.
  • I might be missing something through being distracted by more obvious species or more visible /accessible parts of the landscape

I get this is impossible to do at scale though…as @fffffffff notes. So I guess its more a question of how to reduce these issues.

Each species.

Thats good to know. I didn´t realise. It did seem like some of my pins have moved.
There is an advantage to the UK grid system after all then perhaps…I´ve been a bit cynical of it.

Ah. The best of all possible motivations. Seems like a perfect project for Reykjavik.

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a few thoughts:

  1. if you’re doing mosses, i think even really good macro photos may often be inadequate for species-level identification. you probably need to get a lot of these under a good microscope for proper identification, which probably means collecting samples.
  2. if you’re collecting samples, you could probably just flag wherever you’ve taken a sample (assuming you’re allowed to flag the area), and those flags will prevent you from coming back to the same location.
  3. in general, if you’re sampling, it seems like you should break the entire area into logical units, or else into clusters that represent some specific habitat that you want to capture (ex. sandy soil, trees, etc.), and then break those habitats down in to logical units. finally, within the individual units, determine a specific methodology for taking individual samples. so for example, if you’re dealing with mosses on trees, you could divide the area into, say, 100 equal sized areas, then randomly pick 5 of those areas, and enumerate the trees in them. then pick X number of trees within the areas (based on total trees in each area), and look specifically at those trees. for each tree, you could divide that into mosses growing at in the soil at the base of the tree (say, within the first cm of the trunk) and mosses growing on the bark. for the first category, you could divide the area into degrees, choose a random starting degree (range) from North, and sample, say, each X degrees (depending on the size of the tree trunk) until you can get samples from X number of areas that actually have mosses in them. you could do something similar for mosses growing on the bark, except you’d have to define a height dimension, too, and you’d have to limit yourself to how high up you want to explore, i suppose, too. the process would be the same though, but instead of your units being degrees around the trunk, you’d have to divide the area as more of a grid wrapped around the trunk of the tree…

@pmeisenheimer - Yes, plenty of moss and lichen here!

Not many trees here though @pisum :)
As the Icelandic joke goes…
Q: What should you do if you get lost in an Icelandic forest?
A: Stand up.

But yes, thats another issue… collecting samples and being methodical in keeping the samples… knowing which came from where. Again if theres any recommendations/links for managing that process or how to prepare the mosses for microscopy, would love to hear.

For process on site, I guess just taking a photo then trying to number the different parts of it using an app, then numbering the samples correspondingly. Ideally I want to try and do as much as possible using my phone and iNaturalist app in situ. At the moment just using a 10x loupe with iphone for macro shots, but I have access to a 400x slide microscope add-on for phone too - hoping that will suffice if I start sampling (?) As its portable maybe I could do the microscopy on site even (?) Probably a bit optimistic in Iceland at this time of year though.

Its quite a windy and exposed / public area. Not sure I could really leave flags but good to find an equivalent - maybe I just use existing landscape features for orientation. And I think as you say, focussing on a select number of distinct types of habitat is definitely a good way forward.

Anyway, thanks all! This is helpful to bounce the process off folks.
I´ll give it a go I guess and see what obstacles I encounter.

Yes, the real challenge in a public area is to find a way to supplement existing landmarks. Anything too visible risks being moved or even removed. Burying location beacons might work. But it could prove expensive if they were dug up or washed away by rain. A lot would depend on how deep you could bury the micro-beacon and still locate it.

Once you establish your “landmarks,” though, borrow a drone, mark the landmarks with colored flags or with numbers visible from the air, take a batch of aerial photos, and stitch together a panorama. Maybe lay down some 1 meter sticks to keep everything on the same scale.

Then you can stake out a work area with string each day and either take a drone photo again or just mark it on your map by measuring the distance from your landmarks.

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Ooh, drone. Thats an interesting option. I see i can also just buy a high res satellite view. Though its not cheap - 400USD. Alternatively, perhaps I could do a more time consuming but cheap option using some sort of phone stick combo. Making some sort of good resolution birds eye view image would definitely make the world of difference.

Lots of moss and lichens and Iceland is very much a do your own thing kind of place - at least when it comes to arts and science projects. Your project is just down the road from the Icelandic Phallological Museum in the city that is home to the Monument to the Faceless Bureaucrat, after all.

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In the Oregon Bee Atlas we discovered that you have to turn the phone a few minutes to allow it connect (triangulate?) with the satellites before taking photos. Otherwise the points are not correct and require editing later to put back in the correct location.

Wondered about using clock face designations on rock faces to locate your moss. X at 2 o’clock. Maybe too old school. Digital age people might not understand.

Does your phone allow marking on the photo after you take it? Could circle lichen, label the photo. Use that for first photo in each entry…

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