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Teloschistes peruensis (Ach.) J.W. Thomson

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Scientific name
Teloschistes peruensis
(Ach.) J.W. Thomson
Common names
Peruvian Orange-Bush Lichen
Liquen Anaranjado Arbustivo de la Atacama
Liquen Anaranjado Arbustivo de la Atacama
Liquen Amarillo
IUCN Specialist Group
Assessment status
Assessment date
IUCN Red List Category
IUCN Red List Criteria
Ramos, D., Vargas, R., Herrera-Campos, M., Moat, J., Whaley, O., Parrinello, C. & Bungartz, F.
Dal Forno, M.

Assessment Notes

The content on this page is fetched from The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/175710031/200461575


Teloschistes peruensis is a bright orange lichen with a narrow distribution in Peru and Chile. Its AOO is 8 kmand it is extant at only two locations. Its population size, area of occupancy (AOO), extent of occurrence (EOO), habitat quality, and the number of locations where it occurs have declined substantially due to development, off-road recreational vehicles, air pollution, introduced domestic species, and overall habitat destruction (when comparing the current status to historic reports, it is likely that the species has declined by at least 80% over the past three generations). The threats it faces are ongoing and the species could quickly become extinct without substantial and rapid conservation actions. Therefore, it is listed as Critically Endangered, A2bce.

Taxonomic notes

This species is very poorly known. Specimens from Chile were sent by R. Vargas to P. Frödén in Sweden – the world specialist in the genus Teloschistes. Fröden confirmed that the taxon corresponds to a phylogenetically well-defined lineage, which must be considered a well delimited species. A detailed description was published by Thomson and Iltis (1968).

Geographic range

Teloschistes peruensis has been reported from four sites in Peru, though the existence of one inland site is doubtful, and one site in Chile.

Sites in Peru:

- Otuzco (La Libertad): exact locality unknown, reports doubtful. A specimen collected by Pennell (Pennell 14825, MIN 881527) lacks detailed coordinate data, and no specific geographical reference other than the province Otuzco is cited; the habitat is given as “on sandy soil”. However, Otuzco is an inland province of Peru and not located near the coast, so the typical sandy soil habitat is not present in the area (D. Ramos pers. obs.). Teloschistes peruensis is a rare, occasionally epiphytic lichen, adapted to coastal areas that are regularly inundated by an abundance of fog. It appears unlikely that the species would have been found so far inland. R. Vargas examined the specimen (Pennell 14825, MIN 881527) and confirmed it is correctly identified, but we consider the report from this site nevertheless doubtful. It seems likely that the collection site was erroneously reported by Pennell. There is, however, also one recent report from La Libertad (Peru) published in Rodriguez et al. (2017); two specimens are cited: R. Rodríguez R. and S. Arroyo A. 2729a (HUT) and Rodríguez R., E. Alvítez I. and L. Pollack V. 4135 (HUT). The image included in the publication (Fig. 4D) shows a specimen with densely ciliate apothecia, most likely a misidentification of T. chrysophtalmus (the material needs confirmation). We consider the original reports by Pennell (1948) and the recent ones by Rodriguez et al. (2017) as doubtful. No extant subpopulations could be confirmed in the area. If the species ever existed here, its populations must now be considered extirpated.

- Callao (Lima); Population extirpated (based on extensive searches by D. Ramos), original reports are based on specimens collected by Anderson (s.n., UPS:BOT:L-018824); the material were collected in 1852 at coastal sites where the habitat has since been replaced by an airport and the maritime port of Callao.

- Camaná (Arequipa): Population extirpated (based on extensive searches by D. Ramos), original report by Thompson and Iltis (1968).

- Lomas of Amara and Ullujaya (Ica): The only extant population in Peru was re-discovered during intensive surveys in 2015, but specimens at the time were not collected due to concern about the species' rarity. The site was subsequently surveyed using aerial drones, and the species was collected by a team of botanists from Kew Gardens (Moat and Wilkinson 2018) and reported in Whaley et al. (2019). They documented that the species inhabits two closely connected mound sites (together around 80 x 60 meters), covering an area considerably less than 1 km2.

In Chile, the only confirmed extant subpopulation is located at a site at Pan de Azúcar (Chile). It is very small, with just 10 to 15 functional individuals, the total area inhabited by that subpopulation covers less than 100 m2.

Population and Trends

The original reports by Thompson and Iltis (1968) show very extensive “meadows” of this species at the three confirmed sites in Peru. All of these sites, except one, at the lomas of Amara and Ullujaya (southwest of Ica), have been extirpated (extensive searches done at the sites by D. Ramos). That means there are only two extant subpopulations known. The subpopulation at Pan de Azúcar (Chile) is very small, consisting of 10 to 15 functional individuals, the total subpopulation covering less than 100 m2. The lomas at Ica (Peru) currently harbour the largest known subpopulation (up to 100 functional individuals), which is less than 1 km2. There is one additional report published by Rodriguez et al. (2017) from La Libertad (Peru), which needs confirmation. The larger population at lomas of Ica is completely terrestrial, whereas the much smaller one at Pan de Azúcar is epiphytic (on shrubs).

Population Trend: decreasing

Habitat and Ecology

Teloschistes peruensis grows in open, arid, sandy habitats (lomas in Peru or oasis de Niebla in Chile formations) in the coastal fog-desert of south-central Peru and north-central Chile. These coastal areas are most influenced by fog, particularly during May-November. The dominant vascular plant species at the documented sites in Peru are Tillandsia spp. (Bromeliaceae), much other vegetation is largely ephemeral, i.e. desert annuals such as Nolana spp. and Leptoglossis spp. (Solanaceae) (in Ica) that briefly appear only during, sporadic rainfall events, but also includes isolated perennial clumps of Haageocereus and Eriosyce (Cactaceae). Teloschistes peruensis is only known from this particular habitat. It grows loosely on its sandy substrate, yet is unattached to anything so it can roll. However, it can also be found overgrowing vascular plants (shrubs) and other lichens. The very small population known from Chile is essentially only epiphytic, growing with the common Ramalina usnea on different species of shrubs.

Whaley et al. (2019) state that the species in Ica grows “in a few extremely rare locations at 550 m elev., on loose powdery substrates (a desert loess with a thin crust or pavement), where microclimatic conditions permit the formation of monotypic lichen meadows where no vascular plants are found”.


There are no subpopulations in any protected area in Peru; but the species is found in “Pan de Azúcar” National Park in Chile (Vargas pers. com.), which is well protected, even the access road to the site has recently been closed. There are some discussions on infrastructure development in this area however, which might affect this Chilean population in the future. In Peru the last remaining subpopulation is directly threatened by:

- Development and habitat fragmentation/destruction: there have been proposals for development of mines, housing and holiday home complex near to the site, although not directly on the site. This will increase traffic exposure and likely threaten the entire population; making this development prospect highly problematic. Some mining commissions are located in immediate vicinity to the area (to the west) where the species is found, while there is the possibility for the change of land use for agriculture. The fishermen from the region use the sites for access to the sea, developing dirt roads very close to the population area inhabited by this vagrant lichen.

- 4x4 races: the population is only a few meters from a 4x4 transit route, the Paris Dakar rally ran through in 2013 and was metres away from the population on adjacent small mounds. By luck the very soft caliche and sand substrate prevented 4x4 driving through the site from below. There is one set of stopped tracks that just reached into the main mount, but the car must have bottomed out and they had to reverse or get pushed out. For further Dakar impacts see Hesse (2013).

- Air pollution: air pollutants negatively affecting the area are derived from combustible engines (traffic), and possible chemicals (derived from mining in Marcona mine).

- Presence of exotic species: Goats and cows use the Lomas along the southern coast of Peru as extensive grazing areas, artificial meadows created by irrigation result in displacement and destruction of the original habitat sites.

Conservation Actions

The extant population site at the lomas of Amara and Ullujaya in southern Peru is in urgent need of permanent protection from further habitat destruction, and effective management. Conservation designation action is also required. The population site known from Chile appears to be relatively well protected as part of the National Park, but by comparison with the Peruvian population, the one in Chile is only very small and could be extirpated rapidly by accident unless the authorities are aware of the importance of this species. R. Vargas is working with the Chilean authorities to recognise the species as threatened on the national level (in Chile). In Peru the last national meeting to establish Red Listing on a national level was three years ago. Raising awareness of the species presence and threatened status with local land mangers is essential to improve the conservation prospects of Teloschistes peruensis; while further research and monitoring is required to gain a clearer idea of the status of the species.

Source and Citation

Ramos, D., Vargas, R., Herrera-Campos, M., Moat, J., Whaley, O., Parrinello, C. & Bungartz, F. 2021. Teloschistes peruensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021: e.T175710031A200461575. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2021-2.RLTS.T175710031A200461575.en .Accessed on 6 February 2024

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