A Glimpse into Genetic Diversity and Symbiont Interaction Patterns in Lichen Communities from Areas with Different Disturbance Histories in Białowieża Forest, Poland

Garima Singh, Martin Kukwa, Francesco Dal Grande, Anna Łubek, Jürgen Otte, Imke Schmitt
Microorganisms 2019 September 9, 7 (9)
Anthropogenic disturbances can have strong impacts on lichen communities, as well as on individual species of lichenized fungi. Traditionally, lichen monitoring studies are based on the presence and abundance of fungal morphospecies. However, the photobionts, as well photobiont mycobiont interactions also contribute to the structure, composition, and resilience of lichen communities. Here we assess the genetic diversity and interaction patterns of algal and fungal partners in lichen communities along an anthropogenic disturbance gradient in Białowieża Forest (Poland). We sampled a total of 224 lichen thalli in a protected, a managed, and a disturbed area of the forest, and sequenced internal transcribed spacer (ITS) ribosomal DNA (rDNA) of both, fungal and algal partners. Sequence clustering using a 97% similarity threshold resulted in 46 fungal and 23 green algal operational taxonomic units (OTUs). Most of the recovered photobiont OTUs (14 out of 23) had no similar hit in the NCBI-BLAST search, suggesting that even in well studied regions, such as central Europe, a lot of photobiont diversity is yet undiscovered. If a mycobiont was present at more than one site, it was typically associated with the same photobiont OTU(s). Generalist species, i.e., taxa that associate with multiple symbiont partners, occurred in all three disturbance regimes, suggesting that such taxa have few limitations in colonizing or persisting in disturbed areas. Trebouxia jamesii associated with 53% of the fungal OTUs, and was generally the most common photobiont OTU in all areas, implying that lichens that associate with this symbiont are not limited by the availability of compatible photobionts in Central European forests, regardless of land use intensity.

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