Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Atacama Desert: Some lichens can meet their need for water from air humidity

17.07.2019

The Atacama Desert in Chile is one of the most arid places on earth. To survive here, lichens use fog, dew and high humidity. For some of them, the high humidity alone is sufficient to carry out photosynthesis. This is at least the case with lichens, which sit on cacti. Their relatives on the ground are not able to accomplish this. This is the result of a study by researchers around Dr Patrick Jung from Technische Universität Kaiserslautern (TUK), Germany, published on the online portal "MicrobiologyOpen". These lichens can therefore be active for a longer period of time. During their work in the Chilean desert, the researchers also discovered and described a new species of lichen.

The Atacama Desert extends in the east of South America on a high plateau along the Pacific coast. Water vapour regularly rises here on the steep rocky coasts. In the form of fog, also called camanchaca, it finally moves inland.


These lichens usually have a bearded structure that hangs down from the cacti.

Credit: Patrick Jung


The research team measured the photosynthetic activity of the lichens as the fog passed over the plateau. They used a measuring device that shoots flashes of light at the lichens.

Credit: Patrick Jung

"These oases of fog contain many cacti and above all lichens," says Dr Patrick Jung, first author of the current study and scientist in the Department of Plant Ecology and Systematics at TUK. Lichens resemble symbiotic organisms of at least one fungus and at least one algae carrying out photosynthesis. These can be green algae or cyanobacteria.

"We wanted to know how lichens use fog and high air humidity as water sources, since rain plays no role here," says Jung. If there is no water available, lichens fall into a resting state in order to save energy.

For their study, the scientists compared lichens on the ground with their conspecifics that grow on cacti. In the professional world, such organisms are also known as epiphytes.

"They usually have a bearded structure that hangs down from the cacti," Jung describes the lichens. "The water of the mist gathers in it and falls as a drop to the ground, which is then used in turn by the cacti."

The research team measured the photosynthetic activity of the lichens as the fog passed over the plateau. They used a measuring device that shoots flashes of light at the lichens. Since lichens use a portion of the light for photosynthesis, only a portion of the light leaves the lichens again.

This ratio depends on the water content of the lichen. "With these difference values we can determine how high the potential photosynthetic activity of the lichens is," explains Jung.

The team around the Kaiserslautern botanist found out that the plants use the fog water very efficiently: "After only three minutes, they start to be photosynthetically active." This applies both to the species on the ground and to those on the cacti. In another experiment, they studied how lichens make use of high air humidity, which can also be over 90 percent at natural sites. The study has revealed that only epiphytic lichens use such as water source. "We still have no idea what the reason is," Jung continues.

"The lichens on the cacti have a clear advantage over their conspecifics on the ground, because they can be active by not only exploiting fog and dew but also high humidity over a longer period of time." Therefore a variety of cacti covered with lichens and relatively few lichens that colonize the ground can be found in this fog oasis. This is also why many epiphytic lichens form the food basis of the native guanacos, a small camel species, and represent an important link in the food ecosystem of the barren landscape.

In their work, the botanists also sequenced the lichens genes and discovered a new species. They named this new yellow lichen Acarospora conafii. "The name derives from Conaf," says the Kaiserslautern researcher. The abbreviation stands for the Chilean Forest Authority (Corporación Nacional Forestal), which supported the research. Their rangers also take care of the National Park "Pan de Azúcar", which is located in the Atacama Desert and where the team around Jung studied the lichens.

The study has been published on the online platform MikrobiologyOpen: „Ecophysiology and phylogeny of new terricolous and epiphytic chlorolichens in a fog oasis of the Atacama Desert“

DOI: https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.jc06126
Link to the study: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/mbo3.894

Involved in the study were also: Dina Emrich, Laura Briegel-Williams, Michael Schermer, Lena Weber, Burkhard Büdel (TU Kaiserslautern), Karen Baumann (University of Rostock), Sebastian Achilles, Jörg Bendix (Philipps University of Marburg), Lukas Lehnert (Ludwigs-Maximilian University of Munich), Claudia Colesie (University of Edinburgh) and Philippe Clerc (Botanical Garden Geneva). The project was financed as part of the "EarthShape" priority project of the German Research Foundation (DFG).

Wissenschaftliche Ansprechpartner:

Dr Patrick Jung
Plant Ecology and Systematics
E-mail: patrick_jung90@web.de
Phone: +49 631 205-4402

Originalpublikation:

MikrobiologyOpen: „Ecophysiology and phylogeny of new terricolous and epiphytic chlorolichens in a fog oasis of the Atacama Desert“
DOI: https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.jc06126

Melanie Löw | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Further information:
http://www.uni-kl.de

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Scientists discover how the molecule-sorting station in our cells is formed and maintained
18.11.2019 | Tokyo University of Science

nachricht Pesticides: Improved effect prediction of low toxicant concentrations
18.11.2019 | Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Images from NJIT's big bear solar observatory peel away layers of a stellar mystery

An international team of scientists, including three researchers from New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), has shed new light on one of the central mysteries of solar physics: how energy from the Sun is transferred to the star's upper atmosphere, heating it to 1 million degrees Fahrenheit and higher in some regions, temperatures that are vastly hotter than the Sun's surface.

With new images from NJIT's Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO), the researchers have revealed in groundbreaking, granular detail what appears to be a likely...

Im Focus: New opportunities in additive manufacturing presented

Fraunhofer IFAM Dresden demonstrates manufacturing of copper components

The Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM in Dresden has succeeded in using Selective Electron Beam Melting (SEBM) to...

Im Focus: New Pitt research finds carbon nanotubes show a love/hate relationship with water

Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are valuable for a wide variety of applications. Made of graphene sheets rolled into tubes 10,000 times smaller than a human hair, CNTs have an exceptional strength-to-mass ratio and excellent thermal and electrical properties. These features make them ideal for a range of applications, including supercapacitors, interconnects, adhesives, particle trapping and structural color.

New research reveals even more potential for CNTs: as a coating, they can both repel and hold water in place, a useful property for applications like printing,...

Im Focus: Magnets for the second dimension

If you've ever tried to put several really strong, small cube magnets right next to each other on a magnetic board, you'll know that you just can't do it. What happens is that the magnets always arrange themselves in a column sticking out vertically from the magnetic board. Moreover, it's almost impossible to join several rows of these magnets together to form a flat surface. That's because magnets are dipolar. Equal poles repel each other, with the north pole of one magnet always attaching itself to the south pole of another and vice versa. This explains why they form a column with all the magnets aligned the same way.

Now, scientists at ETH Zurich have managed to create magnetic building blocks in the shape of cubes that - for the first time ever - can be joined together to...

Im Focus: A new quantum data classification protocol brings us nearer to a future 'quantum internet'

The algorithm represents a first step in the automated learning of quantum information networks

Quantum-based communication and computation technologies promise unprecedented applications, such as unconditionally secure communications, ultra-precise...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

First International Conference on Agrophotovoltaics in August 2020

15.11.2019 | Event News

Laser Symposium on Electromobility in Aachen: trends for the mobility revolution

15.11.2019 | Event News

High entropy alloys for hot turbines and tireless metal-forming presses

05.11.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Volcanoes under pressure

18.11.2019 | Earth Sciences

Scientists discover how the molecule-sorting station in our cells is formed and maintained

18.11.2019 | Life Sciences

Hot electrons harvested without tricks

18.11.2019 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>