, Volume 175, Issue 5, pp 523-535

First online:

The Lichen Connections of Black Fungi

  • Lucia MuggiaAffiliated withInstitute of Plant Sciences, Karl-Franzens-University GrazDepartment of Life Science, University of Trieste Email author 
  • , Cecile GueidanAffiliated withDepartment of Life Science, The Natural History Museum
  • , Kerry KnudsenAffiliated withThe Herbarium, Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, University of California
  • , Gary PerlmutterAffiliated withUNC Herbarium, North Carolina Botanical Garden, University of North Carolina
  • , Martin GrubeAffiliated withInstitute of Plant Sciences, Karl-Franzens-University Graz

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Many black meristematic fungi persist on rock surfaces—hostile and exposed habitats where high doses of radiation and periods of desiccation alternate with rain and temperature extremes. To cope with these extremes, rock-inhabiting black fungi show phenotypic plasticity and produce melanin as cell wall pigments. The rather slow growth rate seems to be an additional prerequisite to oligotrophic conditions. At least some of these fungi can undergo facultative, lichen-like associations with photoautotrophs. Certain genera presenting different lifestyles are phylogenetic related among the superclass Dothideomyceta. In this paper, we focus on the genus Lichenothelia, which includes border-line lichens, that is, associations of melanised fungi with algae without forming proper lichen thalli. We provide a first phylogenetic hypothesis to show that Lichenothelia belongs to the superclass Dothideomyceta. Further, culture experiments revealed the presence of co-occurring fungi in Lichenothelia thalli. These fungi are related to plant pathogenic fungi (Mycosphaerellaceae) and to other rock-inhabiting lineages (Teratosphaeriaceae). The Lichenothelia thallus-forming fungi represent therefore consortia of different black fungal strains. Our results suggest a common link between rock-inhabiting meristematic and lichen-forming lifestyles of ascomycetous fungi.


Algae Borderline lichens Dothideomyceta Lichenicolous Lichenothelia Symbiosis