Rapid land use and environmental change have the potential to eliminate species before they can be identified, yet understanding the diversity of ecosystems is essential in optimizing habitat restoration and management. Understanding the diversity and evolutionary history of plants and fungi provides the historical context that enriches our appreciation of the diversity that is found in native habitats.
The creation of the Isthmus of Panama approximately 3 Ma provided the opportunity for the southern and northern migrations of animals, fungi, and plants known as the Great American Biotic Interchange. Historical biogeography has largely focused on the fauna and flora of the region in relation to this event. There is no comprehensive study of how important geological events such as this shaped the diversity of organisms in soil communities where organisms like fungi and microbes engage in biotrophic and saprotrophic ecological interactions with the animal and plant communities.
Fungi are critical for society, both through direct impacts on human health and the economy and through their intimate involvement in most essential environmental processes. However, even though they are not immune to the stressors that threaten animals and plants, including habitat loss, over harvesting, and climate change, fungi are often not included in conservation discussions, planning, or action.
Schiedea is a genus of 34 species in the carnation family (Caryophyllaceae) that is found only in the Hawaiian Islands. This genus of plants is known for having an extraordinary diversity of reproductive systems and serves as an excellent model to study how these systems evolved, particularly in the context of island biology. However, many of these species are threatened or endangered, and two have already gone extinct. In this project, we are using DNA sequence data to understand how these plants evolved and to form the foundation of future conservation efforts.
Wetlands are very diverse and support several threatened and endangered species. Yet, they are among the most stressed ecosystems in the world. To support their conservation and prioritize interventions where they are most needed, it is critical to quantify wetland plant diversity and identify its drivers. This project uses different indicators derived from satellite imagery to estimate the plant diversity of wetland sites across the conterminous United States.
In partnership with The Nature Conservancy, we are working to harvest and map open-sourced community science data submitted through Budburst and iNaturalist applications in Cook and Lake Counties (Illinois), as well as existing collections data from local herbaria and animal collections. This project has two major goals: determining how (1) the ecological community context (e.g.
In the 1800s, grasslands of North America were vast. Since then, about 99 percent of the tallgrass prairie has been destroyed. The small, isolated patches of prairie that remain harbor many plant species; yet, rates of local plant extinctions are alarmingly high. This long-term project investigates why some populations go extinct and others persist in the face of changing environmental conditions. We focus on two evolutionary processes affecting a model prairie plant species, a purple coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia: adaptation and inbreeding depression.
Vanilla is an economically important crop used for flavoring and fragrances. The vanilla "bean" isn't a bean, it is the fruit of the vanilla orchid. This project is investigating if different cultivation practices influence the associated fungi and bacteria (benefical as well as pathogens) found in the roots of vanilla orchids using NextGen sequencing approaches. The study is being undertaken as part of an international team focused on factors influencing the production of vanilla (Mueller, Johnson, and colleagues).
Seasonally dry tropical forests (SDTF) account for nearly half of the world’ s tropical and subtropical forests but remain one of the most endangered habitats. High rates of forest clearing for pasture, frequent fires, and pressure from population growth have all contributed to severe fragmentation and degradation of SDTF. Most conservation efforts to date have been directed toward specific plant taxa or areas that contain high levels of plant endemism.
Cantharellacae includes choice edible fungi such as chanterelles and trumpet fungi. They also are important beneficial symbionts of forest trees. Many species in the group are listed as threatened and endangered in countries that list fungi. Activities in 2014 focused on completing work on documenting the diversity of the group in the Chicago region. DNA analyses confirmed the occurrence of an undescribed species in the yellow chanterelle group.
Laccaria has been used as a model group to study fungi that form ectomycorrhizas (beneficial symbionts of forest trees). Activities in 2014 saw the completion of a multi-year project that combined information from long-term fieldwork with DNA analyses to document the group's diversity, evolutionary relationships, and biogeographic patterns. This resulted in the most comprehensive study of any genus of ectomycorrhizal fungi. A final draft of the first in a series of manuscripts resulting from this work was completed.