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article imageNumber of different types of lichen revealed

By Tim Sandle     Jul 5, 2014 in Environment
A large lichen found in tropical montane forests, long believed to be one species, has turned out to be 126 different types of fungus.
Lichen is not a species in itself. Lichen is a composite organism consisting of a fungus (the mycobiont) and a photosynthetic partner, which is normally a green alga or a special type of bacteria called cyanobacterium. Thus lichens are ecosystems, housing myriad other organisms within a thallus (body), including other fungi and bacteria.
Lichens occur in some of the most extreme environments on Earth — arctic tundra, hot deserts, rocky coasts, and toxic slag heaps. It is estimated in the journal Microbiology that 6 percent of Earth's land surface is covered by lichen. Lichens have been used in making dyes and perfumes, as well as in traditional medicines.
The lichen under review is called Dictyonema glabratum. The lichen plays an important role in threatened ecosystems where it increases soil fertility by converting atmospheric nitrogen into forms that are easily consumed by plants.
What is remarkable about the lichen is the vast number of different fungi that it contains. As reported by National Geographic, scientists Robert Lucking from the Chicago Field Museum and his colleagues sampled nearly 400 D. glabratum from Central and South America. Subsequent genetic analyses revealed that the samples represented at least 126 species of fungi, which are now being classified into two genera, Cora and Corella. This work illustrates how little we know about the numbers of fungi on Earth.
The researchers have published their findings in the journal PNAS, in a paper headed "A single macrolichen constitutes hundreds of unrecognized species."
More about Lichen, Fungus, Species, Genetics
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