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Published 5 July 2018

Lichen lookalikes? Using molecular techniques to correct historical misnomers

Candelaria murrayi - Fig. 6 from the NZJB article.

The latest issue of New Zealand Journal of Botany is now available for access on Taylor and Francis Online. One of the newly published articles in the journal investigates some discrepancies in past identifications of Antarctica's lichen biodiversity.

In the article 'Identification of some lichenised fungi from James Ross Island (Antarctic Peninsula) using nrITS markers' by Halici, Bartak and Güllü in Volume 56.2 of New Zealand Journal of Botany the true identity of some of the humble lichen inhabiting Antarctica and its surrounding islands is revealed. 

Since the earliest expeditions to Antarctica, lichens have always held great interest for biologists as they are the dominant organisms of vegetation in the white continent. 

However these often ambiguous organisms are notorious for having been falsely identified in history. Notably, the 1970s Lichen Flora of Antarctic Continent and Adjacent Islands by Carroll Dodge has been the source of many debates. The book describes 415 species of lichen, 44.6% of which were claimed as being entirely new to science.

Unfortunately many of Dodge’s reports were later proved incorrect.

It is now known that identifying types of lichen based on their physical appearance or structures, known as morphological character, can be very misleading. This is why molecular methods are now also used to help determine Antarctica’s lichen biodiversity. In Halici’s study they utilised the services of a special laboratory to evaluate the gene sequence of the lichen samples they gathered.

These methods allowed them to identify several new species of lichen, which were misidentified in older recordings by previous scientists who only had morphological characteristics to guide them. It is suggested that in order for lichenologists to more accurately tell the difference between lichen species, molecular methods are highly recommended. If this method of double-checking the lichens identity is followed, it is almost certain that the number of known lichen species in the frozen continent will dramatically change. 

The full article is available for access on Taylor and Francis Online along with other newly published articles exploring botany, including an article about carbon-trapping rates in rare Chilean trees and a new classification of a rosette-forming daisy bush brachyglottis.