Pier Luigi Nimis
Pier Luigi graduated from University of Trieste in 1977, and has stayed there making it a name familiar to all lichenologists. He was appointed Professor of Botany in 1986, and became the Director of the Department of Biology in 1996. In his case, being first labelled as a botanist was not totally inappropriate, as amongst his first significant contributions were studies of the vegetation types and phytogeography of places as far apart as Sicily, Yukon, and Svalbard in the 1980s. Some of his earliest scientific names were those given to thorny-cushion plant communities in the Mediterranean, and in 1990 he introduced with Bolognini the “chorogram”, a numerical device designed to translate data on different aspects of plants and their ecology onto maps.
He developed a close friendship with Josef Poelt, and in 1987 they produced a remarkable account of the lichens of Sardinia for an International Botanical Congress excursion which was attended by most leading lichenologists of the day. He soon became the foremost lichenologist in Italy, and was the founding President of the Societa Lichenologica Italiana in 1987. I am sure he had a hand in starting its journal Notiziario which was launched in 1988.
It was the detail and scholarship in The Lichens of Italy (1993), an 897 page monograph dealing with 2,145 infrageneric taxa, however, that established him as a key figure in international lichenology. Some of that work was undertaken in St Marc’s Square in Venice, accompanied by espressos and cigarettes. As a citizen of Venice, with a flat there, he had special rights in the city. That work was followed ten years later by A Second Checklist of the Lichens of Italy with a thesaurus of synonyms (2003), an extremely valuable compilation dealing with a staggering 15,053 infrageneric names. Next on the agenda were keys, and Keys to the Lichens of Italy was launched in 2004, the first volume dealing with terricolous species (2004), and also with maps and detailed descriptions.
Pier Luigi was already well-aware of the potential of living organisms as pollution indicators in the 1980s, and he led a project to map areas in north-east Italy affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster by monitoring the levels of radioactive caesium isotopes in macromycetes (not lichens) in 1986. He was later also involved in examining radioactive caesium isotopes in mosses (1994) and forest plants (1996). Pier Luigi went on to apply his mathematical expertise to the bioindication of air pollution with lichens, using the Index of Atmospheric Purity (IAP) model. He managed to get lichen bioindication accepted at the highest levels in Italy, and launched projects involving school children in 1989. A fine example of this approach was the study of the Veneto region, which was accompanied by super coloured maps of key species frequencies as well as IAP values (1991). A study relating IAP values to the incidence of lung cancer made the pages on Nature in 1997. In 2000, Pier Luigi co-directed a NATO Advanced Research Workshop at the Orielton Field Centre in Wales, a remarkable event attracting 63 researchers from 21 countries, and leading to Monitoring with Lichens – Monitoring Lichens (2002) – still the vademecum of the field.
As an ecologist he was always interested in what lichens did, and this included effects of stonework, especially those of archaeological importance, and not least in and around Rome (1987), and he went on to co-author a text on the topic, Licheni e Conservazione dei Monumenti (1992), which includes keys and photographs.
But Pier Luigi is not just an Italian lichenologist, and he plays a major role in OPTIMA, including preparing an online checklist for the Mediterranean region (1997). About the same time he became much involved with Antarctic lichens, also producing an online database of lichen records and taking part in a major project to look for signs of global change in the continent. In more recent years, Pier Luigi has become increasingly involved in conservation issues in Italy.
To biologists at large, however, the name “Nimis” is perhaps most associated with the development of web-based identification keys that can be used for any organisms, the “KeyToNature” e-keys. These are particularly user-friendly, and the European Union funded a project on these involving 12 countries in 2008–2010. His latest book, Tools for Identifying Biodiversity, co- edited in 2010, has details of 86 e-based identification projects using a wide range of programs.
There is so much more that could be said, but these notes may give a flavour of an exceptional polymath and generous man, whom I have been privileged to know and visit. He always had a strong commitment to the IAL, serving as President in 2000–2004, and it is difficult to think of a more appropriate recipient for the highest award the IAL can bestow, the Acharius Medal. We all wish Pier Luigi a productive future, and trust that now he is just past 60 years he will ride his motorbike a little less furiously than I recall.
– David L. Hawksworth, London