Professor and Director of the Purdue Herbaria, Purdue University
Illuminating the Dark Fungi
Abstract: Conservative estimates put the number of extant fungal species at 1.5 – 5.1 million, of which < 10% have been described. One of the many questions that has been generated from these estimates is where are the “missing”, or dark, fungi. The majority of fungal data, including species estimates, are based on studies of macrofungal diversity in temperate regions. The main focus of work in my lab is to discover and characterize biodiversity (species, genetic, and functional) of fungi from un- and underexplored habitats and lineages—especially the early diverging microfungi of the Basidiomycota from tropical regions. We combine exploratory field research with traditional and modern tools (ranging from physiological profiling to comparative genomics) to accomplish this. This has included, for example, the establishment of two long-term (20+ years) field studies in remote regions of the Guiana Shield and the Congo River Basin; development of tools for utilizing herbarium specimens for phylogenomic studies and for working with fastidious microfungi; and providing the first available genomic resources for nine classes of fungi. Results of this work have improved understanding at all levels of fungal biodiversity including the discovery and description of new higher-level lineages; discovery of new niches and ecological roles; and identification of specific adaptive traits that appear to have driven success, in terms of species richness, of diverse fungal lineages. Finally, we have shown that the most widely-used culture-dependent and culture-independent methods may fail to detect some fungal lineages, which will require development of novel approaches before illumination of global diversity in toto is achieved.