Partner swapping: a climate change survival strategy

Last updated: 26 Nov, 2017

Some species of lichen grow under very different climatic conditions. They are true survival artists. Now new research published in New Phytologist suggests that the secret to their success lies in their willingness to be unfaithful to their algal partners. Researchers from Frankfurt have discovered that the identity of the algal partner could play a crucial role in how well the lichen-forming fungus copes in different climates.


Picky partners

“We were able to prove that the lichen-forming fungi Lasallia pustulata and Lasallia hispanica live together with different green algae from the genus Trebouxia, depending on their location,” said Prof. Imke Schmitt of the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre. “There is a different climate at the locations. The assumption is therefore obvious that the exchange of algal partners is a mechanism that lichen-forming fungi use to adapt to different climatic conditions.”


Cross-section of Lasallia pustulata showing the green algae (green upper layer) and fungal symbiont (white). Copyright: Francesco Dal Grande.


If the lichens do swing between climatic extremes by switching algal partners, they would have an advantage over other organisms. “It’s possible that the lichen-forming fungus could make it within a few generations, instead of living with the previous species of algae rather than another that is more adapted to the new environmental conditions,” explains Schmitt.


Read the full post on the New Phyt blog.


Read the paper: Dal Grande, F., Rolshausen, G., Divakar, P. K., Crespo, A., Otte, J., Schleuning, M. and Schmitt, I. (2017) Environment and host identity structure communities of green algal symbionts in lichens. New Phytologist. doi: 10.1111/nph.14770


Mike Whitfield (@mgwhitfield)
Development Coordinator
New Phytologist