Many lichen species produce both sexual and asexual propagules, but, aside from being minute, these diaspores lack special adaptations for long-distance dispersal. So far, molecular studies have not directly addressed isolation and genetic differentiation of lichen populations, both being affected by gene flow, at a regional scale. We used six mycobiont-specific microsatellite loci to investigate the population genetic structure of the epiphytic lichen Lobaria pulmonaria in two regions that strongly differed with respect to anthropogenic impact. In British Columbia, L. pulmonaria grows in continuous old-growth forests, while its populations in the old cultural landscape of Switzerland are comparably small and fragmented. Populations from both British Columbia and Switzerland were genetically diverse at the loci. Geographically restricted alleles, low historical gene flow, and analyses of genetic distance (upgma tree) and of differentiation (amova) indicated that populations from Vancouver Island and from the Canadian mainland were separated from each other, except for one, geographically intermediate population. This differentiation was attributed to different glacial and postglacial histories of coastal and inland populations in British Columbia. In contrast to expectations, the three investigated Swiss populations were genetically neither isolated nor differentiated from each other despite the long-lasting negative human impact on the lichen's range size in Central Europe. We propose that detailed studies integrating local landscape and regional scales are now needed to understand the processes of dispersal and gene flow in lichens.
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