DNA barcoding of KwaZulu-Natal afromontane forest parmelia (parmeliaceae) species: a molecular approach to accurate specimen identification and sensitivity to climate change.
Ndhlovu, Nqobile Truelove.
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Accurate species identification is challenging, especially in groups with subtle taxonomically diagnostic characters such as lichens. Molecular-based techniques have shown to be a valuable tool for accurate specimen identification in fungi, in particular the use of DNA barcoding has become popular. Specifically, the internal transcriber spacer (ITS) region has been shown to successfully discriminate a broad range of fungal species. In this study, the utility of the ITS DNA barcode for use as a species diagnostic tool in the cosmopolitan lichen-forming fungus, Parmelia (Parmeliaceae) was investigated. Sixty-eight ITS sequences were generated from specimens collected from five sites around the province of KwaZulu-Natal and analysed. Phylogenetic analysis indicated that unlike European Parmelia species that form strong monophyletic clades, what appeared to be morphologically very similar Parmelia species in KwaZulu-Natal are paraphyletic or polyphyletic. No barcode gap was detected between the intra and interspecific distances. This suggests that the taxonomy of Parmelia lichens in South Africa needs to be thoroughly revised. The molecular data presented in this study provides evidence of previously hidden species-level diversity in Parmelia and as such contributes to the knowledge and understanding of the biodiversity of lichenized fungi in South Africa. The thermotolerance of Parmelia collected from different sites along an altitudinal gradient around Kwa-Zulu Natal was invesigated Chlorophyll fluorescence was used to assess the performance of lichen photobionts following stress, while ion leakage that of the mycobiont. For heat tolerance, results suggested that tolerance was correlated with the climatic conditions in which the lichens grow. Material from the coastal site of Hawaan were more heat tolerant than that from the three Midlands sites. Counter to our expectations, the coastal collections were more cold tolerant than those from the other sites. However, the genus clearly contains genetic variation with respect to stress tolerance, suggesting that it may have the potential to adapt to climate change.