A team of researchers with members from the U.S. and several South American countries has found that a type of lichen that grows in several parts of Central and South America consists of at least 126 species of fungi and possibly as many as 400. As the team notes in their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, until very recently, the lichen was believed to have just one species of fungus.
Lichen is an organism that exists as a partnership between a fungus and photosynthetic partner—it’s a photobiont. The main mass of any given lichen generally consists of fungal filaments which host algal cells. In the study in South America, the researchers looked at Dictyonema glabratum, which recently was divided into two separate genera, (Cora and Corella) with initial analysis suggesting 16 distinct species of fungi.
D. glabratum (lichen are named after the fungal component) is considered to be ecologically important to South America as it is one among many lichen that fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil, which makes them natural fertilizers. D. glabratum is generally small, about the size of human fist, and grows in curly masses around other objects, such as tree trunks.
Read more at: Phys.org