Species-specific detection of Lobaria pulmonaria (lichenized ascomycete) diaspores in litter samples trapped in snow cover


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    Present addresses: Department of Biology, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA; †Abteilung Molekularbiologie, Zentrum für Labormedizin Kantonsspital Aarau, CH-5001 Aarau, Switzerland.

J.-C. Walser. Fax: + 41(0)17392215; E-mail:jean-claude.walser@wsl.ch


The foliose lichen Lobaria pulmonaria has suffered a substantial decline in central and northern Europe during the twentieth century and is now considered to be critically endangered in many European lowland regions. Based on demographic studies, it has been proposed that under the present environmental conditions and forest management regimes, dispersal of diaspores and subsequent establishment of new thalli are insufficient to maintain the remnant small lowland populations. Chances of long-term survival may therefore be reduced. The data and analytical power of these demographic studies are limited. Since lichen diaspores show very few species-specific morphological characteristics, and are therefore almost indistinguishable, the accurate assessment of diaspore flux would be a fundamental first step in better understanding the life cycle of L. pulmonaria. Here we present a new molecular approach to investigate the dispersal of L. pulmonaria diaspores in its natural environment by specifically identifying small amounts of DNA in snow litter samples at varying distances from known sources. We used a species-specific polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primer pair to amplify the ribosomal internal transcribed spacer region (ITS rDNA) and a sensitive automated PCR product detection system using fluorescent labelled primers. We detected considerable amounts of naturally dispersed diaspores, deposited as far as 50 m away from the closest potential source. Diaspores were only found in the direction of the prevailing wind. Diaspore deposition varied from 1.2 diaspores per m2 per day at 50 m distance from the source to 15 diaspores per m2 per day at 1 m distance. The method described in this paper opens up perspectives for studies of population dynamics and dispersal ecology mainly in lichenized ascomycetes but also in other organisms with small, wind-dispersed diaspores.