Our lab group does research in the area of fungal biology in which we study taxonomy, life histories, and systematics – particularly of fungi in the Pezizomycetes, the Orbiliomycetes and recently in the Laboulbeniomycetes.
Pfister, D. (Photographer). (2008) Fistulina after harvest [photograph]. Punta Arenas, Chile.
Haelwaters, D. (Photographer). (2013). Laetiporus sulphureus – Chicken of the woods. [photograph]. Hingham, MA: Worlds End.
Arthropod–fungus interactions involving the Laboulbeniomycetes have been pondered for several hundred years. Early studies of Laboulbeniomycetes faced several uncertainties. Were they parasitic worms, red algal relatives, or fungi? If they were fungi, to which group did they belong? What was the nature of their interactions with their arthropod hosts? The historical misperceptions resulted from the extraordinary morphological features of these oddly constructed ectoparasitic fungi. More recently, molecular phylogenetic studies, in combination with a better understanding of life histories, have clearly placed these fungi among filamentous Ascomycota (subphylum Pezizomycotina). Species discovery and research on the classification of the group continue today as arthropods, and especially insects, are routinely collected and examined for the presence of Laboulbeniomycetes. Newly armed with molecular methods, mycologists are poised to use Laboulbeniomycetes–insect associations as models for the study of a variety of basic evolutionary and ecological questions involving host–parasite relationships, modes of nutrient intake, population biology, host specificity, biological control, and invasion biology. Collaboration between mycologists and entomologists is essential to successfully advance knowledge of Laboulbeniomycetes and their intimate association with their hosts.
During fungal surveys between 2012 and 2014 in pine-dominated forests of the western Himalayas in Pakistan, several collections of Pseudosperma (Agaricales, Inocybaceae) were made. These were documented, based on morphological and molecular data. During this work, three new species came to light, which are here formally described as Pseudosperma brunneoumbonatum, P. pinophilum and P. triacicularis. These species belong in the genus Pseudosperma fide Matheny et al (2019) = Pseudosperma clade fide Matheny (2005) = Inocybe sect. Rimosae s.s. fide Larsson et al. (2009). Macro- and micro-morphological descriptions, illustrations and molecular phylogenetic reconstructions of the studied taxa are provided. The new species are differentiated from their close relatives by basidiospore size and colouration of basidiomata. Molecular phylogenetic relationships are inferred using ITS (ITS1–5.8S–ITS2), nrLSU and mtSSU sequence data. All three newly-described taxa likely share an ectomycorrhizal association with trees in the genus Pinus. In addition, five names are recombined in Inosperma, Mallocybe and Pseudosperma. These are Inosperma vinaceobrunneum, Mallocybe erratum, Pseudosperma alboflavellum, Pseudosperma friabile and Pseudosperma neglectum.
Orbilia jesu-laurae is a new species of nematode-trapping fungus found on decorticated angiosperm wood in a tropical rainforest in Puerto Rico. The single specimen was studied from fresh apothecia and cultures. Morphology was studied and phylogenetic analysis (rDNA: ITS and LSU) was conducted using both sexual and asexual morphs. Nematodes were added to cultures to verify the formation and morphology of the trapping structures. Our results show that the species is in the Arthrobotrys clade, the phylogenetically closest relative being a possibly Mexican genotype with unknown morphology, erroneously referred to as Arthrobotrys musiformis in GenBank. Macro- and micromorphological, ecological and biogeographic data are provided along with a discussion of closely related species.
Historically, thallus-forming Laboulbeniomycetes, including the orders Laboulbeniales and Herpomycetales, were set apart because of their distinctive morphology and ecology. Although some biologists correctly interpreted these arthropod ectoparasites as fungi, even ascomycetes, others thought they were worms, red algae, or members of taxa described especially for them. Speculation on the evolution of the group involving red algae, the morphology-based Floridean Hypothesis, persisted deep into the 20th century, in part because valid alternatives were not presented. Although the distinctive features of Laboulbeniales clearly set them apart from other fungi, the difficulty was in the absence of characters grouping them among the fungi. Thaxter considered the Laboulbeniales to be ascomycetes, but he avoided phylogenetic discussions involved in the Floridean Hypothesis all of his life. Eventually, developmental studies of the life history of Pyxidiophora species, hyphal perithecial ascomycetes with 2-celled ascospores, revealed characters connecting Laboulbeniales to other ascomycetes. The distinctive morphological features of Laboulbeniales (absence of mycelium, a thallus developed from 2-celled ascospores by cell divisions in several planes, arthropod parasitism) can be best understood by comparison with Pyxidiophora. The development of a 3-dimensional thallus composed of true parenchyma occurs not only in Laboulbeniales, but also in Pyxidiophora species. The life history of arthropod ectoparasitism of Laboulbeniales as well as mycoparasitism and phoretic dispersal by arthropods of Pyxidiophora species can be explained by Tranzschel’s Law, originally applied to rust fungi. Molecular analyses including other arthropod-associated fungi have contributed to a better understanding of an enlarged class, Laboulbeniomycetes, which now includes a clade comprising Chantransiopsis, Tetrameronycha, and Subbaromyces. A two-locus phylogenetic tree highlights evolutionary and life history questions with regard to the placement of Herpomycetales as the first diverging lineage of the Laboulbeniomycetes. The sister group for all the Laboulbeniomycetes remains to be discovered.