International Association for Lichenology

Marie-Agnès Letrouit-Galinou

Marie-Agnès Letrouit-Galinou

Marie-Agnès is a very special lichenologist. She has maintained active research interests in, and made significant contributions to, diverse aspects of the field for over 50 years. Early on she came under the spell of Marius Chadefaud, under whose guidance she prepared her doctoral thesis on the comparative anatomy and ontogeny of discolichen ascomata. Her first publication in 1953 was with Chadefaud and on the structure of asci in Pertusaria species. Carefully executed and pioneering developmental and structural studies were to become her primary focus.

She was one of what I like to refer to as Chadefaud’s “gang of four”, along with André Bellèmere, Marie-Claude Janex-Favre, and Agnès Parguey-Leduc, who started to show from critical observation that the then dominating Nannfeldt-Luttrell views of ascomycete development and classification were unsound. Many were skeptical of their drawings and interpretations as they often seemed so contrary to the accepted views, and that much was in French also provided a barrier, although Marie-Agnès in particular produced major reviews of the group’s work in English. Yet the “gang of four” continued their painstaking documentation, and it was not until the mid-1970s that the tide began to turn. Electron microscopic studies started to show that they were studying real structures, and mycologists at large started to wake-up to and recognize the significance of their discoveries, which are today also supported by overwhelming molecular data.

But she was also influenced by Henry des Abbayes with whom she worked at Rennes in the early stages of her career. In consequence she had a deep interest in lichen systematics and ecology, and might have been in danger of becoming an alpha-taxonomist, producing a masterly monograph of Laurera back in 1958. She later developed a special interest in the effects of air pollution on lichens, also stimulating others to work in depth on this topic in France.

There is also Marie-Agnès the organiser. She played a key role in the establishment of the Association Française de Lichénologie in 1976 and was its first Vice-President and its second President (1978–80). In 1993 I was honoured to work closely with her in the planning of the NATO Advanced Research Workshop on “Ascomycete Systematics” held in Paris; this was an enormously successful and timely event, involved 140 researchers from 24 countries, and did much to cement what is now the routine inclusion of lichen-forming fungi in overall ascomycete systems. On this occasion, the “gang of four” presented their now widely lauded results as the key background papers to the meeting; what a change in perception there had been since the 1960s!

Finally there is Marie-Agnès the person. Always gracious, unassuming, and doing all she can to promote lichenology in France. And at times often under difficult personal circumstances. I remember the modest microscopes with which they worked, and on one visit finding that the three ladies of the gang were painting the walls of their laboratory. She retired in August 1999 from her position as Directeur de Recherches in CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) held in the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, donating her library to the Musee Nationale d’Histoire Naturelle. It is difficult to think of a more deserving recipient for the IAL’s Acharius Medal.

– David L. Hawksworth, Madrid