Sunday, January 13, 2013

Caloplaca reptans, an enigmatic sterile lichen

I recently published a paper in Systematic Botany detailing a case in which DNA and bioinformatics finally made it possible to describe an enigmatic sterile lichen species known from the Appalachian Mountains.

Since sexual characteristics are the primary way that fungi are classified, this sterile species could not be put into our current classification based on how it looks.  The small grayish-greenish species described in the paper (Caloplaca reptans) was known for years in the Appalachian Mountains because it is so distinctive.  However, it was never described formally because no one could figure out what its closest relatives were (and since the genus was uncertain, it could not be given a binomial). We used our DNA-based approach to infer its phylogeny and found that it is closely related to members of the genus Caloplaca, a genus in which most of the species are bright orange or similarly colored.  We can now say that its placement makes sense based on some of its other characteristics, but no one would have guessed that it was just an odd member of that group, one that has apparently lost its ability to make the brightly-colored pigments.

A small, isolated thallus of Caloplaca reptans on rock (scale = 0.5 mm)

I am continuing to conduct research using molecular sequences and bioinformatics to discover and describe new lifeforms so that we can better understand the planet's biodiversity.  Be on the lookout for more papers in the future along these lines!

- Brendan



Hodkinson, B. P. and J. C. Lendemer. 2012. Phylogeny and taxonomy of an enigmatic sterile lichen. Systematic Botany 37(4): 835-844.
Download publication (PDF file)
View data and analysis file webportal (website)

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