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Published: January 5, 2015

Is everything everywhere? - Understanding hidden diversity of tropical lichens

Stephanie Ware, Manager, Morphology Labs, SEM

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Project Mentor: Dr. Thorsten Lumbsch (Curator, Botany, Integrative Research Center)

Project Description: Lichen-forming fungi are a unique group of fungi that live in close associations with photosynthetic symbiotic partner (algae or cyanobacteria) that provide energy for the symbiotic system. The diversity of lichenized fungi is poorly known, especially in tropical habitats. Traditionally, fungi, including lichens were thought to have wide distributions and that geographical distributions are primarily shaped by ecology. In a project focusing on the tropical lichen family Stictaceae, this project will address species delimitation in lichens in an evolutionary context and testing hypotheses of wide distribution of species. DNA sequence data of selected genes will be generated in the Pritzker Laboratory for Molecular Systematics and analyzed to address the delimitation of species. Previous studies have shown that cryptic diversity (i.e. morphologically similar organisms are genetically separate) is common among lichenized fungi and recent estimates suggest that the number of tropical lichens is about 25% higher than previously assumed. These molecular studies will be complemented by studies on micromorphology and secondary chemistry of the studied samples to attempt a phenotypical circumscription of the groups found in the molecular analysis.

Research methods and techniques: Interns 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. Morphological studies will include light microscopy. 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.


Stephanie Ware
Manager, Morphology Labs, SEM

Stephanie Ware is currently a research assistant in the Division of Insects currently working with Dr. Petra Sierwald. She also works with Mary Hennen in the Division of Birds monitoring the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) populations in Illinois.