Damien Ertz (National Botanical Garden of Belgium) obtained the Mason Hale Award for his doctoral thesis during the IAL6 meeting in California in 2008. He successfully defended his thesis, supervised by Paul Diederich and Emmanuël Sérusiaux, on 26 March 2007 at the University of Liège in Belgium. The title of his thesis was Morphological, molecular and ecogeographical studies in the family Roccellaceae, with emphasis on Opegrapha and Plectocarpon (lichenized and lichenicolous species). The thesis includes several studies on the taxonomy of Roccellaceae and on the molecular phylogeny of the Arthoniales: (1) Revision of the corticolous Opegrapha species from the Paleotropics (in press); (2) Revision of the genus Opegrapha in the Sonoran Region (published in the third volume of the lichen Flora of the Greater Sonoran Desert Region); (3) A world monograph of the genus Plectocarpon (published in Bibliotheca Lichenologica 91: 1-155); (4) A three-gene phylogeny of the Arthoniales, with emphasis on the genus Opegrapha (published in Mycological Research 113: 141-152); (5) Other papers on the taxonomy of Roccellaceae.
From 2002, Damien collected lichens in Europe, several African countries (Bénin, Gabon, Rwanda, Zambia), La Réunion, Madagascar, Macaronesia, the Galapagos Islands and the United States, focusing on Arthoniales. During these collecting trips, Damien was able to isolate and culture many species and genera of Arthoniales, allowing subsequent DNA extraction and sequencing. This was especially important, as direct DNA extraction of crustose Arthoniales frequently gives wrong sequences, either resulting from contaminants or from other species of Arthoniales growing on the same substratum.
Four months of training in the lab of François Lutzoni in 2003 were a key step to learning the techniques for the molecular project. A three-gene analysis resulted in a phylogenetic tree with several highly supported clades. The results proved that Opegrapha and Enterographa are polyphyletic, and that the classical taxonomy based on morphological characters does not correctly reflect phylogenetic relationships.
Damien obtained a permanent position as a lichenologist at the National Botanical Garden of Belgium in 2007 to continue his projects on the Arthoniales.
– Paul Diederich, Luxembourg