, Volume 187, Issue 3, pp 767–782 | Cite as

Strong specificity and network modularity at a very fine phylogenetic scale in the lichen genus Peltigera

  • P. L. ChagnonEmail author
  • N. Magain
  • J. Miadlikowska
  • F. Lutzoni
Community ecology – original research


Identifying the drivers and evolutionary consequences of species interactions is a major goal of community ecology. Network-based analyses can provide mathematical tools to detect non-random patterns of interactions, and potentially help predicting the consequences of such patterns on evolutionary dynamics of symbiotic systems. Here, we characterize the structure of a lichen network at a very fine phylogenetic scale, by identifying the photosynthetic partners (i.e., cyanobacteria of the genus Nostoc) of lichenized fungi belonging to a monophyletic section of a single genus (i.e., section Polydactylon of the genus Peltigera), worldwide. Even at such a fine phylogenetic scale, we found that interactions were highly modular and anti-nested, indicating strong preferences in interactions. When considering local Peltigera communities, i.e., datasets at small spatial scales with only a slightly broader phylogenetic range, interactions remained modular but were asymmetric, with generalist Nostoc partners interacting with specialized Peltigera species. This asymmetry was not detected with our global spatial scale dataset. We discuss these results in the light of lichen community assembly, and explore how such interaction patterns may influence coevolution in lichens and the evolutionary stability of the mutualism in general.


Cyanolichens Partner selection Mutualism Nostoc Symbiosis 



We are very thankful to many people that assisted us during various Peltigera collecting trips, as well as collaborators and curators of herbaria for providing material for this study.

Author contribution statement

PLC, NM, JM and FL planned and designed the research, NM, JM and FL conducted samplings and molecular analyses, PLC conducted numerical analyses, and PLC, NM, JM and FL wrote the manuscript.


This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (DEB-1025930 and DEB-1556995 to J.M. and F.L.), the Belgium American Educational Foundation (post-doctoral fellowship to N.M.) and the Killam Trust and Fonds de la Recherche du Québec, Nature et Technologies (post-doctoral fellowships to P.L.C.).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Départment des Sciences Biologiques, Institut de Recherche en Biologie VégétaleUniversité de MontréalMontréalCanada
  2. 2.Department of BiologyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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