• Bidders are hoping to win naming rights to new species of Bryoria, commonly known as horsehair lichen. (Photo: André Aptroot, tropicallichens.net)

A few years ago, a fellow lichenologist named a new species of lichen after Trevor Goward. Ramboldia gowardiana features maraschino-red buttons protruding from a silvery white crust. Toby Spribille’s reasoning was that Goward “added local colour to lichenology in western North America.” The curator of lichens at the University of British Columbia, Goward has himself discovered, described and named more than 20 species of lichen, but the naming privileges to his most recent finds will probably go to strangers.

Goward is working with a pair of conservation organizations in British Columbia to auction off the right to name his two new species. The Victoria-based Ancient Forest Alliance, which is dedicated to protecting and advocating for the province’s old-growth forests, is soliciting bids for Bryoria, a “horsehair lichen” that cascades over tree branches in long, black strands. Goward hopes that the auction money will help the organization “make its voice heard in coming elections.” The Land Conservancy of British Columbia (TLC), meanwhile, is selling the naming rights to Parmelia, a leafy, branch-clinging “crottle” lichen marked by slender, pallid grey lobes. Proceeds from the winning bid will go toward the purchase of private land to create a wildlife corridor between two sections of Wells Gray Provincial Park, in east-central British Columbia.

A Google satellite view of the Wells Gray region reveals widespread logging; a patchwork of scarred land surrounds the park’s borders. Between the park’s southern points lies a jumble of crown land and private property, as well as migration paths used by black and grizzly bears, cougars and moose. About two kilometres wide, the proposed wildlife corridor will protect these routes, which merge with land set aside for researchers from Thompson Rivers University, in Kamloops. Goward has donated his adjacent four hectares of property to the project and persuaded a neighbouring couple to donate 27 hectares.

Both auctions are scheduled to wrap up by late December. As of press time, the leading bids were in the $5,000 ballpark and the auctions had attracted high-profile bidders such as National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence Wade Davis. “We’re hoping that this auction really captures someone’s imagination,” says Barry Booth, TLC’s northern region manager. “This is such an innovative way to commemorate someone’s life and to raise funds for the Wells Gray project. This could be a model for future fundraising.”

Goward’s ambitions go even further. Roughly 18,000 new organisms are described by taxonomists worldwide every year (although most are much smaller than lichens), and he plans to call upon his peers to participate in the “taxonomic tithing” movement by sharing some of their naming rights with environmental causes. His pitch to potential bidders: “Somebody in the world will always know the name of that species, and because the naming will have a story, it will have more resonance.”

For an update on the lichen auctions, visit www.ancientforestalliance.org and blog.conservancy.bc.ca. For more information on “taxonomic tithing,” go to www.waysofenlichenment.net.