Researchers from the University of Helsinki studied the lichen diversity in Africa and discovered dozens of new species. Previously, they were not identified due to external similarities and the lack of more detailed tests.
The species diversity and relationship of lichens of the genus Leptogium were assessed by the researchers based on DNA analysis using a large set of data collected over more than 10 years in East Africa. They noted that the visual differences between them can be minimal, while they can differ in a changing environment.
The research article focuses on the species diversity of the genus Leptogium, a group of jelly lichens common in the mountain forests of East Africa. Thousands of lichen specimens were collected in Kenya and Tanzania in 2009-2017, including nearly 600 Leptogium specimens.
DNA analysis showed that the Leptogium dataset includes over 70 different species, a dozen of which were previously unknown.
“Morphological differences between species are often subtle and open to interpretation, and the external differences between individual species can also vary greatly depending on environmental factors. Even chemical characteristics cannot be used to accurately identify them, ”the scientists noted.
Due to problems with species identification, lichen samples with more or less similar appearance, collected from different parts of the world, are traditionally assigned to the same species. However, new research data shows that the number of lichen species is much higher than previously thought.