The Mediterranean region, comprising the Mediterranean Basin and the Macaronesian Islands, represents a center of diversification for many organisms. The genetic structure and connectivity of mainland and island microbial populations has been poorly explored, in particular in the case of symbiotic fungi. Here we investigated genetic diversity and spatial structure of the obligate outcrossing lichen-forming fungus Parmelina carporrhizans in the Mediterranean region. Using eight microsatellite and mating-Type markers we showed that fungal populations are highly diverse but lack spatial structure. This is likely due to high connectivity and long distance dispersal of fungal spores. Consistent with low levels of linkage disequilibrium and lack of clonality, we detected both mating-Type idiomorphs in all populations. Furthermore we showed that the Macaronesian Islands are the result of colonization from the Mediterranean Basin. The unidirectional gene flow, though, seemed not to be sufficient to counterbalance the effects of drift, resulting in comparatively allelic poor peripheral populations. Our study is the first to shed light on the high connectivity and lack of population structure in natural populations of a strictly sexual lichen fungus. Our data further support the view of the Macaronesian Islands as the end of the colonization road for this symbiotic ascomycete.
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