What are fungal traits that facilitate mutualisms with animals?
Do fungi diversify in response to mutualisms?
What are the factors that shape the distribution of fungi?
How are prokaryotic communities structured on macrofungi?
Where are the missing fungi?
How will fungi respond to climate change?
Below are some fungal systems I work with to answer these questions.
The tropical endemic fungus, Guyanagaster necrorhizus, uses wood-feeding termites as its dispersal agents. Work on this system seeks to understand how the fungus rewards termites to maintain this dispersal mutualism. Pictures above show the many maturation groups of G. necrorhizus and spores that adhere to the exoskeleton of the termites after they feed on the sporocarps.
The ash bolete fruits exclusively with ash trees, however, ash trees are not ectomycorrhizal hosts. Work on this system seeks to understand how this fungus gets its nutrition. A prevailing untested hypothesis is that this fungus gets its nutrition from the honeydew produced by the aphids that are housed in sclerotia attached to the ash roots (that was a lot right there!). Using transcriptomics, Dr. Josh Herr and I are testing this hypothesis. Pictured above from left to right: ash bolete sporocarps; empty sclerotia found underneath the sporocarps; aphid-inhabited sclerotia attached to the ash roots; aphids inside the sclerotia.
Tropical passerines use fungal rhizomorphs for nest construction. Work in this system seeks to characterize all of the species that birds use, as they sometimes do not fruit, and what adaptive benefit birds get for using these structures compared to more common ones. Eventually, when we understand the fungal species involved in this this mutualism, we can test the hypothesis that this mutualism has enhanced the diversification of the fungi involved.
Marasmius is a hyperdiverse genus, particularly in the tropics. Poor phylogenetic loci have inhibited us from resolving this group. Using phylogenomics, I am attempting to resolve the evolutionary history of this genus and use it to test biogeographic hypotheses.