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Research article2012Peer reviewedOpen access

Geographic mosaic of symbiont selectivity in a genus of epiphytic cyanolichens

Fedrowitz, Katja; Kaasalainen, Ulla; Rikkinen, Jouko


In symbiotic systems, patterns of symbiont diversity and selectivity are crucial for the understanding of fundamental ecological processes such as dispersal and establishment. The lichen genus Nephroma (Peltigerales, Ascomycota) has a nearly cosmopolitan distribution and is thus an attractive model for the study of symbiotic interactions over a wide range of spatial scales. In this study, we analyze the genetic diversity of Nephroma mycobionts and their associated Nostoc photobionts within a global framework. The study is based on Internal Transcribed Spacer (ITS) sequences of fungal symbionts and tRNA(Leu) (UAA) intron sequences of cyanobacterial symbionts. The full data set includes 271 Nephroma and 358 Nostoc sequences, with over 150 sequence pairs known to originate from the same lichen thalli. Our results show that all bipartite Nephroma species associate with one group of Nostoc different from Nostoc typically found in tripartite Nephroma species. This conserved association appears to have been inherited from the common ancestor of all extant species. While specific associations between some symbiont genotypes can be observed over vast distances, both symbionts tend to show genetic differentiation over wide geographic scales. Most bipartite Nephroma species share their Nostoc symbionts with one or more other fungal taxa, and no fungal species associates solely with a single Nostoc genotype, supporting the concept of functional lichen guilds. Symbiont selectivity patterns within these lichens are best described as a geographic mosaic, with higher selectivity locally than globally. This may reflect specific habitat preferences of particular symbiont combinations, but also the influence of founder effects.


Cyanobacteria; functional guild; Nephroma; Nostoc; symbiosis

Published in

Ecology and Evolution
2012, Volume: 2, number: 9, pages: 2291-2303

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