International Association for Lichenology

Jack Elix

Jack Elix

Today we celebrate the lichenological accomplishments of a prominent oenophile and good friend, John A. Elix, who grew up in the South Australia wine country. Rather than training in the botanical or fungal arena, Jack was formally trained in organic chemistry (B.Sc. and Ph.D. Adelaide; post-doctoral years at the University of Cambridge and D.Sc. in natural products chemistry at the Australian National University). He started his professional career as a lecturer in chemistry at the Australian National University in 1967 and subsequently became a full professor in that department. At Cambridge Mel Sargent, a colleague and friend of Jack’s, was working on the structural confirmation of averantin and other lichen anthraquinones and it was at this time he first became interested in these organisms. In 1969 Jack attended a lichenology course in the Botany Department at ANU given by Eilif Dahl. He joined Eilif in several field excursions and became ‘hooked’ on these organisms. Eilif was also responsible for introducing Jack to Syo Kurokawa.

Given the emerging importance of lichen secondary metabolites to the systematics of lichens through the work of Asahina, the Culbersons and others at the time of Jack’s introduction into lichenology in the late 1960s, it was appropriate that he became interested in lichen secondary metabolites. With his chemical background, he had a distinct advantage, as he could interpret mass spectra print outs or nuclear magnetic resonance outputs, as readily as most lichenologists can interpret TLC plates. His access to sophisticated chemical techniques allowed him, his students and colleagues to elucidate the chemical structure of well over 250 lichen secondary metabolites, often with validation through synthesis investigations, and thereby advancing our knowledge of these lichen secondary metabolites by at least 50%.

In the process of conducting these investigations, he built a library of authentic standards of secondary metabolites, which he readily shared with many lichenological colleagues. These standards allowed Jack to provide a singular service to many of us by providing authoritative determinations of our unknowns. With his students and colleagues, he developed the first computer based program for analyzing our TLC plates, and he subsequently perfected the use of HPLC for the determination of lichen secondary metabolites, and taught these techniques to his colleagues. These achievements and service alone would merit the awarding of the Acharian medal to Dr J.A. Elix by the International Association for Lichenology.

In addition to his chemical research, Jack has become a lichen systematist of extraordinary skill, who has now published over 450 new species. In collaboration with Kurokawa he published in the early 1970s his first papers on Australian Parmeliaceae on species now placed in Xanthoparmelia, and by the late 1970s he had published his monograph, on the Australasian Hypogymniae. For many years he collaborated extensively with the late Mason Hale bringing the systematics of the Parmeliaceae, the largest family of the lichenized fungi, into much sharper focus.

Since Mason’s death in 1990, Jack has been the world’s primary expert on the Parmeliaceae with a focus in recent years on collaborating with Ana Crespo and colleagues on molecular investigations in the family. Through his industry many of the major genera (Paraparmelia, Pseudoparmelia, Psiloparmelia, Relicina) in that family have now been monographed at the world level. In addition, many major revisions have been published at the continental scale (e.g. Xanthoparmelia for Australasia and later South America; most of the Parmeliaceae for Australia in Vol. II of the Australia Flora, and Hypotrachyna for the Flora Neotropica [in ed.]). Through his efforts in obtaining research money, conducting research on his own and nurturing the efforts of younger colleagues, Jack has been one of the primary forces behind the inclusion of lichens in the Flora Australia project, that now includes four major volumes.

Broad interest in the Australian lichen flora has led Jack to investigate many other lichen groups outside of the Parmeliaceae, including Amphorothecium, Buellia, Cladia, Kantvilasia, Labyrintha, Lecanora, Myeloconis, Myelorrhiza, Pertusaria, Physma, Physcidia, Ramboldia, Siphulella, Strigula, and Tasmidella, several of which were newly described genera to science. Furthermore, his regional focus on Australia has been ever expanding to major investigations, initially with his good friend and collecting partner Heinar Streimann in Papua New Guinea, and subsequently in collaboration with students and colleagues throughout Oceania and SE Asia.

– Thomas H. Nash III, Tempe