Regular occurrence of Klebsormidium green algae in hot and cold deserts

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Living in biological soil crust communities of African deserts – physiological traits of green algal Klebsormidium species (Streptophyta) to cope with desiccation, light and temperature gradients

by Karsten U., Herburger K., Holzinger A. (2015)


Green algae of the genus Klebsormidium (Klebsormidiales, Streptophyta) are typical members of biological soil crusts (BSCs) worldwide. The phylogeny and ecophysiology of Klebsormidium has been intensively studied in recent years, and a new lineage called superclade G, which was isolated from BSCs in arid southern Africa and comprising undescribed species, was reported. Three different African strains, that have previously been isolated from hot-desert BSCs and molecular-taxonomically characterized, were comparatively investigated. In addition, Klebsormidium subtilissimum from a cold-desert habitat (Alaska, USA, superclade E) was included in the study as well. Photosynthetic performance was measured under different controlled abiotic conditions, including dehydration and rehydration, as well as under a light and temperature gradient.

All Klebsormidium strains exhibited optimum photosynthetic oxygen production at low photon fluence rates, but with no indication of photoinhibition under high light conditions pointing to flexible acclimation mechanisms of the photosynthetic apparatus. Respiration under lower temperatures was generally much less effective than photosynthesis, while the opposite was true for higher temperatures. The Klebsormidium strains tested showed a decrease and inhibition of the effective quantum yield during desiccation, however with different kinetics. While the single celled and small filamentous strains exhibited relatively fast inhibition, the uniserate filament forming isolates desiccated slower. Except one, all other strains fully recovered effective quantum yield after rehydration. The presented data provide an explanation for the regular occurrence of Klebsormidium strains or species in hot and cold deserts, which are characterized by low water availability and other stressful conditions.

Published: Journal of Plant Physiology


Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.