Diversity of Leptogium (Collemataceae, Ascomycota) in East African Montane Ecosystems
Tropical mountains and especially their forests are hot spots of biodiversity threatened by human population pressure and climate change. The diversity of lichens in tropical Africa is especially poorly known. Here we use the mtSSU and nuITS molecular markers together with morphology and ecology to assess Leptogium (Peltigerales, Ascomycota) diversity in the tropical mountains of Taita Hills and Mt. Kasigau in Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. The sampled habitats cover a wide range of
... a wide range of ecosystems from savanna to alpine heath vegetation and from relatively natural forests to agricultural environments and plantation forests. We demonstrate that Leptogium diversity in Africa is much higher than previously known and provide preliminary data on over 70 putative species, including nine established species previously known from the area and over 60 phylogenetically, morphologically, and/or ecologically defined Operational Taxonomic Units (OTUs). Many traditional species concepts are shown to represent morphotypes comprised of several taxa. Many of the species were only found from specific ecosystems and/or restricted habitats and are thus threatened by ongoing habitat fragmentation and degradation of the natural environment. Our results emphasize the importance of molecular markers in species inventories of highly diverse organism groups and geographical areas.