The symbiotic playground of lichen thalli—a highly flexible photobiont association in rock-inhabiting lichens

Lucia Muggia, Lucie Vancurova, Pavel Škaloud, Ondrej Peksa, Mats Wedin, Martin Grube
FEMS Microbiology Ecology 2013, 85 (2): 313-23
The development of characteristic thallus structures in lichen-forming fungi requires the association with suitable photoautotrophic partners. Previous work suggests that fungi have a specific range of compatible photobionts and that selected algal strains are also correlated with the habitat conditions. We selected the rock-inhabiting crust lichen Protoparmeliopsis muralis, which exhibits high flexibility in algal associations. We present a geographically extended and detailed analysis of algal association patterns including thalli which host superficial algal colonies. We sampled 17 localities in Europe, and investigated the photobiont genotypic diversity within and between thalli and compared the diversity of intrathalline photobionts and externally associate algal communities between washed and unwashed thalli by single-strand conformation polymorphism analyses and ITS sequence data. The results show that (1) photobiont population within the lichen thalli is homogeneous; (2) multiple photobiont genotypes occur within single areoles and lobes of individual lichens; and (3) algal communities which superficially colonize the lichen thalli host taxa known as photobionts in unrelated lichens. Photobiont association patterns are extremely flexible in this ecologically versatile crust-forming lichen. We suggest that lichen surfaces represent a potential temporary niche for free-living stages of lichen photobionts, which could facilitate the establishment of further lichens in the proximal area.

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