Local representation of global diversity in a cosmopolitan lichen-forming fungal species complex (Rhizoplaca, Ascomycota)


Correspondence: Steven D. Leavitt, Department of Biology and M. L. Bean Life Science Museum, 193 MLBM, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT 84602, USA.

E-mail: sleavitt@fieldmuseum.org



The relative importance of long-distance dispersal versus vicariance in determining the distribution of lichen-forming fungi remains unresolved. Here, we examined diversity and distributions in a cosmopolitan lichen-forming fungal species complex, Rhizoplaca melanophthalma sensu lato (Ascomycota), across a broad, intercontinental geographical distribution. We sought to determine the temporal context of diversification and the impacts of past climatic fluctuations on demographic dynamics within this group.


Antarctica, Asia, Europe, North America and South America.


We obtained molecular sequence data from a total of 240 specimens of R. melanophthalma s.l. collected across five continents. We assessed the monophyly of candidate species using individual gene trees and a tree from a seven-locus concatenated data set. Divergence times and relationships among candidate species were evaluated using a multilocus coalescent-based species tree approach. Speciation probabilities were estimated using the coalescent-based species delimitation program bpp. We also calculated statistics on molecular diversity and population demographics for independent lineages.

Main conclusions

Our analyses of R. melanophthalma s.l. collected from five continents supported the presence of six species-level lineages within this complex. Based on current sampling, two of these lineages were found to have broad intercontinental distributions, while the other four were limited to western North America. Of the six lineages, five were found on a single mountain in the western USA and the sixth occurred no more than 200 km away from this mountain. Our estimates of divergence times suggest that Pleistocene glacial cycles played an important role in species diversification within this group. At least three lineages show evidence of recent or ongoing population expansion.