Revealing hidden fungal species using DNA: The importance of recognizing cryptic diversity

May 10, 2013
A colorful collage of lichens growing on rock in an arid region of the Southwestern USA. Lichens play a variety of important ecological roles and are often a dominant biological component in extreme environments. Credit: Dr. Steve Leavitt

Our ability to assess biological diversity, ecosystem health, ecological interactions, and a wide range of other important processes is largely dependent on accurately recognizing species. However, identifying and describing species is not always a straightforward task. In some cases, a single species may show a high level of morphological variation, while in other cases, multiple morphologically similar species may be hidden under a single species name. Cryptic species, two or more distinct species that are erroneously classified under a single species name, are found in all major groups of living things.

As an alternative to traditional morphology-based species delimitation, an international research group, including scientists from Germany, Iran, Spain, and the USA, describe five new species of lichen-forming fungi from what was traditionally considered a single species using differences in . The authors state that "the effective use of genetic data appears to be essential to appropriately and practically identify natural groups in some phenotypically cryptic lichen-forming fungal lineages". The study was published in the open access journal Mycokeys.

They also provide a reference DNA sequence database for specimen identification using , making specimen identification more accessible and more reliable at the same time. The application of DNA-based identification can potentially be used as a way for both specialists and nonspecialists alike to recognize species that are otherwise difficult to identify.

The green rock-posy lichen (center right) occurs on all continents, except Australia. Traditionally, the fungal partner of this lichen was considered to be a single species, but recently genetic data revealed six distinct species sharing a similar appearance. Credit: Dr. Steve Leavitt

Lichens are commonly used to monitor ecosystem health and the impact of . In addition, some lichens are potentially valuable sources of pharmaceutical products, including antibiotics, antioxidants, etc. In spite of their occurrence in all and overall ecological importance, lichens are commonly overlooked. DNA barcode identification can be performed in a variety of ecological, pharmaceutical, and biomonitoring studies in order to quickly sort specimens into the correct species.

The authors argue that the use of molecular sequence data in identifying species will likely become increasingly important and routinely applied. Other disciplines such as ecology, conservation, and physiology will benefit from a more objectively based species circumscription, enabling us to interpret distribution and ecological patterns more precisely, while more accurately monitoring environmental disturbance and climate change. The authors predict that this approach will prove to be an important tool in making critical conservation-related decisions.

Explore further: Scientist creates automatic birdsong recognition app

More information: Leavitt SD, FernaÅLndez-Mendoza F, PeÅLrez-Ortega S, Sohrabi M, Divakar PK, Lumbsch TH, St. Clair LLS (2013) DNA barcode identification of lichen-forming fungal species in the Rhizoplaca melanophthalma species-complex (Lecanorales, Lecanoraceae), including five new species. MycoKeys 7: 1, doi: 10.3897/mycokeys.7.4508

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

DNA analysis aids in classifying single-celled algae

Sep 20, 2012

(Phys.org)—For nearly 260 years—since Carl Linnaeus developed his system of naming plants and animals—researchers classified species based on visual attributes like color, shape and size. In the past ...

Scientists develop tools for discovering new species

Mar 11, 2013

For hundreds of years, naturalists and scientists have identified new species based on an organism's visible differences. But now, new genetic techniques are revealing that different species can show little, ...

New butterfly species identified in Yucatan peninsula

Nov 23, 2011

About 160,000 species of butterflies and moths are already known, but scientists believe that a similar number still remain undiscovered. Identification and characterization of these species can be complicated by the fact ...

Recommended for you

Four new dragon millipedes found in China

21 minutes ago

A team of speleobiologists from the South China Agriculture University and the Russian Academy of Sciences have described four new species of the dragon millipedes from southern China, two of which seem to ...

Scientist creates automatic birdsong recognition app

3 hours ago

Dr Dan Stowell, an EPSRC Research Fellow in QMUL's School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, has used a grant from Queen Mary Innovation to develop a prototype for an app that turns his research ...

New research reveals fish are smarter than we thought

4 hours ago

(Phys.org) —A new study from researchers in our Department of Psychology with colleagues at Queen Mary University of London has reported the first evidence that fish are able to process multiple objects ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.