Low genetic diversity in Antarctic populations of the lichenforming ascomycete Cetraria aculeata and its photobiont
Lichens, symbiotic associations of fungi (mycobionts) and green algae or cyanobacteria (photobionts), are poikilohydric organisms that are particularly well adapted to withstand adverse environmental conditions. Terrestrial ecosystems of the Antarctic are therefore largely dominated by lichens. The effects of global climate change are especially pronounced in the maritime Antarctic and it may be assumed that the lichen vegetation will profoundly change in the future. The genetic diversity of populations is closely correlated to their ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions and to their future evolutionary potential. In this study, we present evidence for low genetic diversity in Antarctic mycobiont and photobiont populations of the widespread lichen Cetraria aculeata. We compared between 110 and 219 DNA sequences from each of three gene loci for each symbiont. A total of 222 individuals from three Antarctic and nine antiboreal, temperate and Arctic populations were investigated. The mycobiont diversity is highest in Arctic populations, while the photobionts are most diverse in temperate regions. Photobiont diversity decreases significantly towards the Antarctic but less markedly towards the Arctic, indicating that ecological factors play a minor role in determining the diversity of Antarctic photobiont populations. Richness estimators calculated for the four geographical regions suggest that the low genetic diversity of Antarctic populations is not a sampling artefact. Cetraria aculeata appears to have diversified in the Arctic and subsequently expanded its range into the Southern Hemisphere. The reduced genetic diversity in the Antarctic is most likely due to founder effects during long-distance colonization. The environmental conditions of the Antarctic are among the most adverse on Earth and are generally characterized by low mean annual temperatures, high wind velocities, extreme drought and extended periods of darkness. The effects of global climate change are especially pronounced in parts of the Antarctic (Turner et al. 2005). Air temperature in the maritime Antarctic has steadily increased within the last years (Smith & Stammerjohn 1996; Turner et al. 2005). On the western Antarctic Peninsula a temperature increase of more than 2.5 K has been observed over the last 50 years. The overall effect of such a temperature increase on terrestrial Antarctic organisms could be beneficial. For example, glacial melting will increase the availability of terrestrial (page number not for citation purpose)
Keywords Genetic diversity; lichens; Cetraria aculeata; Trebouxia jamesii; polar lichens; global change
(Published: 27 March 2012)
Citation: Polar Research 2012, 31, 17353, DOI: 10.3402/polar.v31i0.17353
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