Lichens are commonly described as a mutualistic symbiosis between fungi and algae (Chlorophyta or Cyanobacteria); however, they also have internal bacterial communities. Recent research suggests that lichen-associated microbes are an integral component of lichen thalli and that the classical view of this symbiotic relationship should be expanded to include bacteria. However, we still have a limited understanding of the phylogenetic structure of these communities and their variability across lichen species. To address these knowledge gaps, we used bar-coded pyrosequencing to survey the bacterial communities associated with lichens. Bacterial sequences obtained from four lichen species at multiple locations on rock outcrops suggested that each lichen species harbored a distinct community and that all communities were dominated by Alphaproteobacteria. Across all samples, we recovered numerous bacterial phylotypes that were closely related to sequences isolated from lichens in prior investigations, including those from a lichen-associated Rhizobiales lineage (LAR1; putative N2 fixers). LAR1-related phylotypes were relatively abundant and were found in all four lichen species, and many sequences closely related to other known N2 fixers (e.g., Azospirillum, Bradyrhizobium, and Frankia) were recovered. Our findings confirm the presence of highly structured bacterial communities within lichens and provide additional evidence that these bacteria may serve distinct functional roles within lichen symbioses.
Bates, S.T., Cropsey, G.W.G., Caporaso, J.G., Knight, R., Fierer, N. (2011): Bacterial communities associated with the lichen symbiosis. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 77: 1309-1314. DOI: 10.1128/AEM.02257-10