Extremophiles : life under extreme conditions

Lichensphere: a protected natural microhabitat of the non-lichenised fungal communities living in extreme environments of Antarctica.

PMID 26400492


We surveyed the diversity, distribution and ecology of non-lichenised fungal communities associated with the Antarctic lichens Usnea antarctica and Usnea aurantiaco-atra across Antarctica. The phylogenetic study of the 438 fungi isolates identified 74 taxa from 21 genera of Ascomycota, Basidiomycota and Zygomycota. The most abundant taxa were Pseudogymnoascus sp., Thelebolus sp., Antarctomyces psychrotrophicus and Cryptococcus victoriae, which are considered endemic and/or highly adapted to Antarctica. Thirty-five fungi may represent new and/or endemic species. The fungal communities displayed high diversity, richness and dominance indices; however, the similarity among the communities was variable. After discovering rich and diverse fungal communities composed of symbionts, decomposers, parasites and endemic and cold-adapted cosmopolitan taxa, we introduced the term "lichensphere". We hypothesised that the lichensphere may represent a protected natural microhabitat with favourable conditions able to help non-lichenised fungi and other Antarctic life forms survive and disperse in the extreme environments of Antarctica.