Genetic diversity of green algal and cyanobacterial photobionts in Nephroma was examined by using nucleotide sequences of the ribosomal gene cluster. The lichens studied included both bipartite and tripartite species. There was very little variation in green algal-ITS sequences of N. arcticum and N. expallidum. Almost identical sequences were obtained from all thalli analysed and also from two tripartite Peltigera species. On the basis of SSU rDNA data the green algal photobionts of N. arcticum are closely related to the primary photobiont of P. britannica, and also to an endophytic alga of Ginkgo biloba. The SSU rDNA region of lichen-forming cyanobacteria was rather variable. A phylogenetic analysis indicated that the Nostoc specimens formed a monophyletic group and the strains were divided into two main groups. One clade included only cyanobionts of lichens, including those of all bipartite Nephroma species. The second group was genetically more heterogeneous and included mainly cyanobionts of terricolous cyanolichens, including those of both tripartite Nephroma species studied. The distinction between bi- and tripartite Nephroma species is significant as the mycobionts of tripartite species are not monophyletic. It implies that within Nephroma, evolutionary transitions between symbiosis types cannot have been achieved simply via an acquisition or loss of the green algal photobiont. As the Nostoc symbionts of bi- and tripartite species belong to different phylogenetic groups, an evolutionary change in green algal association has required a concurrent change in cyanobiont composition.
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