Digging for Answers
Donald Nelsen is dividing his field research this summer between the forest and the lab bench.
Ectomycorrhizal fungi colonize the roots of trees and increase their host’s uptake of water and essential nutrients in exchange for sugars produced by these trees as a result of photosynthesis. The ectomycorrhizal fungi involved that Don is studying include many of the common mushrooms that appear in forests during the late summer and fall.
Relatively little is known about the extent to which assemblages of fungi vary from one type of tree to another, and this is especially true for the trees found in Europe and North America. Don is sampling the fungi associated with three species of deciduous hardwoods that are closely related to trees that can be found in North America: the European beech, European oak, and European musclewood.
Don is digging up root tips from around the bases of the trees and extracting DNA from these root tips. The samples of DNA will be sequenced, and the resulting sequences used to identify the species of fungi involved.
As part of his dissertation, Don will describe the similarities and differences between fungal communities on host trees from both continents. No comparable study has ever been carried out.
His project also represents collaboration between the laboratories of József Geml at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center and Steve Stephenson, a research professor of biological sciences at the U of A and Don’s adviser.