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Lichen holobionts show compositional structure along elevation

Cite this dataset

Rolshausen, Gregor (2022). Lichen holobionts show compositional structure along elevation [Dataset]. Dryad.


Holobionts are dynamic ecosystems that may respond to abiotic drivers with compositional changes. Uncovering elevational diversity patterns within these microecosystems can further our understanding of community-environment interactions. Here we assess how the major components of lichen holobionts – fungal hosts, green algal symbionts, and the bacterial community – collectively respond to an elevational gradient.

We analyze populations of two lichen symbioses, Umbilicaria pustulata and U. hispanica, along an elevational gradient spanning 2100 altitudinal meters and covering three major biomes. Our study shows (i) discontinuous genomic variation in fungal hosts with one abrupt genomic differentiation within each of the two host species, (ii) altitudinally structured bacterial communities with pronounced turnover within and between hosts, and (iii) altitude-specific presence of algal symbionts. Alpha diversity of bacterial communities decreased with increasing elevation. A marked turnover in holobiont diversity occurred across two altitudinal belts: at 11-13°C average annual temperature (here: 800-1200m a.s.l.), and at 7-9°C average annual temperature (here: 1500-1800m a.s.l.). The two observed zones mark a clustering of distribution limits and community shifts. The three ensuing altitudinal classes, i.e. the most frequent combinations of species in holobionts, approximately correspond to the Mediterranean, cool-temperate, and alpine climate zones. We conclude that multitrophic microecosystems, such as lichen holobionts, respond with concerted compositional changes to climatic factors that also structure communities of macroorganisms, e.g. vascular plants.