Lichens and animal camouflage: some observations from central Asian ecoregions

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Mahmood Soofi
Sandeep Sharma
Barbod Safaei-Mahroo
Mohammad Sohrabi
Moosa Ghorbani Organli
Matthias Waltert


Camouflage is a fitness-relevant trait that supports survival and fosters evolutionary adaptation by which animals match their body pattern to a background setting. Lichens are among the most common of these backgrounds that several animal species use for camouflage. Lichens are omnipresent and grow in wide arrays of colorations and compositions. Their composition and phenotypic diversity might facilitate cryptic coloration and habitat matching by various animal species. Here, we describe the role of lichens in providing camouflage to various animal species in central Asian and Caucasus mountain ecoregions, which are categorized as global biodiversity hotspots. Despite multiple ecological studies, no information is available on the role of this regions‘ lichen diversity in providing animal camouflage. Casual field observations of lichen camouflage are reported for four (one mammal and three reptile) species: the Persian Leopard’s Panthera pardus saxicolor body coat seems to closely match the colors and patterns of saxicolous lichens (Acarospora sp. and Circinaria sp.) in their habitat.  A similar background matching pattern was observed in both morphs of the Caucasian Rock Agama Paralaudakia caucasia upon crustose lichens: Caloplaca spp., Circinaria spp., and the Radde’s Rock Lizard Darevskia raddei to the crustose lichens Acarospora sp. and Caloplaca sp. Likewise, the Horny-scaled Agama’s Trapelus ruderatus grey matches with the color of multiple lichens (Lecanora spp., Circinaria spp., Protoparmeliopsis spp., Rinodina spp., and Anaptychia spp.). Our observations preliminarily suggest that lichens play an important role for species of different trophic levels, ensuring adaptation and survival through camouflage. We call for more field-based empirical and experimental studies in various terrestrial ecosystems in other parts of the world to test the role of lichens in local adaption and evolutionary plasticity of regional species.

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Soofi, M., Sharma, S., Safaei-Mahroo, B. , Sohrabi, M., Ghorbani Organli, M. and Waltert, M. 2022. Lichens and animal camouflage: some observations from central Asian ecoregions. Journal of Threatened Taxa. 14, 2 (Feb. 2022), 20672–20676. DOI:
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