The Atacama Desert is one of the driest and probably oldest deserts on Earth where only a few extremophile organisms are able to survive. This study investigated two terricolous and two epiphytic lichens from the fog oasis "Las Lomitas" within the National Park Pan de Azúcar which represents a refugium for a few vascular desert plants and many lichens that can thrive on fog and dew alone. Ecophysiological measurements and climate records were combined with molecular data of the mycobiont, their green algal photobionts and lichenicolous fungi to gain information about the ecology of lichens within the fog oasis. Phylogenetic and morphological investigations led to the identification and description of the new lichen species Acarospora conafii sp. nov. as well as the lichenicolous fungi that accompanied them and revealed the trebouxioid character of all lichen photobionts. Their photosynthetic responses were compared during natural scenarios such as reactivation by high air humidity and in situ fog events to elucidate the activation strategies of this lichen community. Epiphytic lichens showed photosynthetic activity that was rapidly induced by fog and high relative air humidity whereas terricolous lichens were only activated by fog.
Keywords: Trebouxia; ITS; gas exchange; lichen; lichenicolous fungi; rbcL.
© 2019 The Authors. MicrobiologyOpen published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.