- • Multiple interacting factors may explain variation present in symbiotic associations, including fungal specificity, algal availability, mode of transmission and fungal selectivity. To separate these factors, we sampled the lichenized Cladonia subtenuis and associated Asterochloris algae across a broad geographic range.
- • We sampled 87 thalli across 11 sites using sequence data to test for fungal specificity (phylogenetic range of association) and selectivity (frequency of association), fungal reproductive mode, and geographic structure among populations. Permutation tests were used to examine symbiont transmission.
- • Four associated algal clades were found. Analysis of molecular variation (amova) and partial Mantel tests suggested that the frequency of associated algal genotypes was significantly different among sites and habitats, but at random with respect to fungal genotype and clade. The apparent specificity for Clade II algae in the fungal species as a whole did not scale down to further within-species lineage-dependent specificity for particular algae. Fungal genotypes were not structured according to site and appeared to be recombining.
- • We suggest that ecological specialization exists for a specific lichen partnership and a site, and that this selectivity is dynamic and environment-dependent. We present a working model combining algal availability, fungal specificity and selectivity, which maintains variation in symbiotic composition across landscapes.