Lichen fungi have low cyanobiont selectivity in maritime Antarctica


Author for correspondence: H. Thorsten Lumbsch Tel: +1 312 665 7881 Fax: +1 312 665 9158 Email:


  • • The cyanobionts of lichens and free-living Nostoc strains from Livingston Island (maritime Antarctica) were examined to determine both the cyanobiont specificity of lichens and the spatial distribution of Nostoc strains under extreme environmental conditions.
  • • We collected five different lichen species with cyanobacteria as primary or secondary photobiont (Massalongia carnosa, Leptogium puberulum, Psoroma cinnamomeum, Placopsis parellina and Placopsis contortuplicata) and free-living cyanobacteria from different sample sites and analysed them using the tRNALeu (UAA) intron as a genetic marker to identify the cyanobacterial strains.
  • • Our results showed that the same Nostoc strain was shared by all five lichen species and that an additional strain was present in two of the lichens. Both Nostoc strains associated with lichen fungi also occurred free-living in their surrounding. Bi- and tri-partite lichens were not different in their cyanobiont selectivity.
  • • Contrary to studies on different lichen species in temperate regions, the Antarctic lichen species here did not use species-specific cyanobionts; this could be because of a selection pressure in this extreme environment. Limiting factors under these ecological conditions favor more versatile mycobionts. This results in selection against photobiont specificity, a selection pressure that may be more important for lichen distribution than the effect of cold temperatures on metabolism.