By Donna Lu “Tapestry of life” by Zorica Kovacevic won the Plants and Fungi category of the 2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competitionZorica Kovacevic / Wildlife Photographer of the Year At first glance, the velvety grey that trims the gnarled branches of this Monterey cypress tree might look like snow. But the otherworldly scene is the result of algae and lichen, created by natural conditions that occur at only one place in the world: a protected coastal zone in the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in the US. The image, taken by Zorica Kovacevic, is a 2019 Wildlife Photographer of the Year winner in the Plants and Fungi category, announced on 15 October. Run by the Natural History Museum in London, the competition showcases the world’s best nature photography each year. The Monterey cypress is native to only two groves, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve and the Del Monte Forest on the central Californian coast. Summers there are cool and moist, with abundant sea fog. It is also widely planted in Europe and New Zealand, and is valued for its hardiness. The Monterey cypress can withstand wind, salt and drought, and can grow to 40 metres in height. Advertisement The spongy orange growths on this tree’s branches are green algae that have been coloured by carotenoid pigments. They are abundant in nature but found on Monterey cypresses only at Point Lobos, where clean air and moisture create ideal conditions for growth. The algae are able to photosynthesise their own food and are harmless to the trees. The grey snow-like deposits are a similarly harmless lace lichen (Ramalina menziesii). Lace lichen grows with a distinctive net-like pattern that gives it its name, and is most commonly found on damp, coastal facing slopes in California. Lichens, of which there are 20,000 known species, form when algae or cyanobacteria grow in combination with fungi. The two co-exist symbiotically: the algae or cyanobacteria produce carbohydrates via photosynthesis, which the fungi benefit from; in turn, fungi filaments gather moisture and nutrients from the environment and provide a structural anchor. “The moment” by Yongqing Bao, China. Joint Winner 2019, Behaviour: Mammals, Wildlife Photographer of the Year grand title winnerYongqing Bao / Wildlife Photographer of the Year Yongqing Bao captured the moment a fox ambushed a terrified marmot in China’s Qilian Mountains National Nature Reserve. The marmot had ventured out of its burrow to search for food. It was early spring, and it would have only recently finished its winter hibernation, which lasts at least six months. The image is a joint winner in the Mammalian Behavior category. Bao was also named the Wildlife Photographer of the Year grand title winner for this shot. “Early riser” by Riccardo Marchgiani, Italy. Winner 2019, 15-17 years oldRiccardo Marchgiani / Wildlife Photographer of the Year This image of a gelada and her week-old infant, taken at first light in Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains National Park, won Riccardo Marchgiani the prize for photographers aged 15 to 17. “Pondworld” by Manuel Plaickner, Italy. Winner 2019 Behaviour: Amphibians and ReptilesManuel Plaickner / Wildlife Photographer of the Year Photographer Manuel Plaickner captured this image of European common frogs spawning in a large pond in South Tyrol, Italy, which won in the Amphibians and Reptiles category. Each spring, stirred by rising temperatures, the frogs emerge from their winter shelters to mate. Females lay up to 2000 eggs in a clear jelly capsule. “The architectural army” by Daniel Kronauer, USA. Winner 2019, Behaviour: InvertebratesDaniel Kronauer / Wildlife Photographer of the Year Photographer Daniel Kronauer tracked this colony of nomadic army ants a quarter of a mile through the rainforest near La Selva Biological Station in northeastern Costa Rica. The ants formed vertical chains and networks of chambers and tunnels to transport larvae and their queen. This photograph won the prize in the Invertebrate Behaviour category. “Creation” by Luis Vilariño Lopez, Spain. Winner 2019, Earth’s EnvironmentsLuis Vilariño Lopez / Wildlife Photographer of the Year This aerial shot of one of the world’s most active volcanos, called Kīlauea and located on Hawaii’s Big Island, is the winning image in the Earth’s Environments category. In May 2018, Kīlauea started spewing out lava through fissures on its lower East Rift. Photographer Luis Vilariño Lopez captured the image from a helicopter as noxious clouds of acid vapour filled the sky. “The rat pack” by Charlie Hamilton James, UK. Winner 2019, Urban WildlifeCharlie Hamilton James / Wildlife Photographer of the Year This photograph of brown rats was captured in Lower Manhattan in New York. Urban populations are rising fast –rats are social animals, powerful swimmers and jumpers, and capable of navigating complex networks such as sewers. Taken by Charlie Hamilton James, the image won in the Urban Wildlife category. “Frozen moment” by Jérémie Villet, France. Winner 2019, Rising Star Portfolio AwardJérémie Villet / Wildlife Photographer of the Year It may look like a romantic embrace, but these two male Dall’s sheep are pictured at the end of a fierce clash, in the Yukon, Canada. The two rams attempted to duel but were forced into a truce by strong winds, a heavy blizzard and brutal cold. This image is among several that won photographer Jérémie Villet the Rising Star Portfolio Award. “The huddle” by Stefan Christmann, Germany. Winner 2019, Wildlife Photographer of the Year Portfolio AwardStefan Christmann / Wildlife Photographer of the Year More than 5,000 male emperor penguins huddling against the wind and cold in a photograph taken by Stefan Christmann in late winter on the sea ice of Antarctica’s Atka Bay. Each male holds an egg on his feet, incubating it under a fold of skin. This was one of several images that won Christmann the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Portfolio Award. Read more: Is life on Earth really at risk? The truth about the extinction crisis More on these topics: animals plants photography