Munzi, S. & Giovanetti, M. (2021) Wanted: virtual or live! How lichens are becoming part of mass internet culture.Symbiosis, 84, 285-293. DOI:10.1007/s13199-021-00780-6 (IF2020 2,268; Q4 Microbiology)
While restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic have strongly limited and affected the work of scientists and communicators, the pandemic has also encouraged the development of new ways of networking and public engagement. People have had to resort to virtual events, with a subsequent proliferation of webinars, online meetings, and digital resources. In this situation we have had to find new ways of measuring the impact of these activities. Using the activities of the Italian Lichen Society (Società Lichenologica Italiana, SLI), Google Trends and colleagues’ contributions, we evaluated the performances and impacts of virtual tools on lichenological literacy. We compared the relative success of virtual and in-person events and the effort required; we evaluated followers’ appreciation of various categories of posts on SLI Facebook page; and designed a questionnaire to collate information on individual experiences of in-person and virtual events linked to lichens. As expected, online events generally required less effort to put together and deploy than in-person events and engaged more people, especially when recorded and made available online for a long time. Using online searches for the word “lichens” we found an association with national events, and there was a notable increase in membership of SLI over the last 10 years, demonstrating an increasing interest by people in lichens. Without excluding the positive effects of in-person experiences, we believe that online events offer a powerful tool to help increase interest in, and knowledge about lichens. This interest may help to mitigate the impact of anthropogenic activities on this sensitive component of the ecosystem and help human-lichen relationships.