What’s in a name? That’s what we call a species – addressing species delimitation in lichenized fungi

One of the most successful group of fungi forms stable symbiotic associations with algae and/or cyanobacteria, so-called lichens. These fungi are called lichenized fungi and the traditional delimitation of species within this group of organisms was based mainly on morphology and secondary chemistry. Species were believed to have very wide distributions, often including different continents. However, DNA sequence data suggest that these concepts vastly underestimated the true diversity of lichenized fungi. Recent studies suggest that many distinct lineages are hidden under common species names. In a project focusing on species delimitation in Parmeliaceae and related clades, this study will address species delimitation in lichens in a phylogenetic context. DNA sequence data of different genes will be used to address the delimitation of species. The lichenized fungi selected for this study belong to the genus Oropogon in the family Parmeliaceae (Lecanorales) and will mainly include specimens from East Asia. Previous studies of this genus in the Neotropics revealed cryptic diversity and in this extension, the question will be addressed whether cryptic species can be discovered in East Asia as well.

Research methods and techniques: REU participants in this project will receive training in molecular and organismal research methods. They will learn how important a combination of both methods is for an understanding of the evolution of the diversity of life. The training will include introduction to the literature, handling of herbarium specimens. Chemical examination will include chromatographic methods, such as HPTLC and HPLC. Molecular methods will include DNA isolation, PCR and subsequent direct sequencing of certain gene regions. Subsequently, the analysis of DNA sequence data will be performed.

Advisor: Dr. Thorsten Lumbsch (Curator, Botany and Associate Director, Integrative Research Center)