“The huge and largely undiscovered diversity of mushrooms, molds and yeasts makes fungal taxonomy a challenging and exciting discipline.”
The enormous diversity of life in general has always been fascinating me, but it was during my biology studies at the Ghent University in Belgium that I learned about the vast and unknown diversity of fungi. Roughly 100,000 species of fungi are accepted in the current taxonomy, but more than 400,000 fungal species names – including numerous synonyms – are recorded in the literature, and it is likely that millions of new species still await description. How all this diversity evolved is an even greater mystery. Combined with a strong interest for molecular phylogenetics, this made me decide to become a fungal taxonomist. I focus my research on fungi in the order Russulales and combine fieldwork and traditional morphological research with a cutting edge molecular approach. I enjoy and appreciate the collaboration with amateur mycologists that are often very experienced in field work and morphological species identification.
The Kits van Waveren Foundation is sponsoring me as a research fellow at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center. This gives me all the needed, modern research facilities and allows me to collaborate closely with the people of the Dutch mycological Society, who share an enormous knowledge on the fungi in The Netherlands and beyond. Before, I worked as an assistant professor at the Ghent University in the lab of Prof. Mieke Verbeken from 2006 to 2012, where I also did my PhD.
Taxonomists create the language of biodiversity, enabling communication about different organisms among scientists and the general public. This essential work is particularly challenging in hyper diverse and morphologically cryptic groups, such as the kingdom Fungi. Especially in this new molecular era, the approach to taxonomy is about to change drastically. I combine fieldwork, morphology, microscopy and state of the art molecular phylogenetic techniques to study the evolution and diversification of fungi in the order Russulales. I am also involved in barcoding projects and a metaboarcoding project in tropical Africa.
Current research topics
The global diversity of Lactarius (Russulaceae, Basidiomycota) in space and time
This study focusses on the worldwide diversification and historical biogeography of the genus Lactarius. It is based on a global sample of morphologically and molecularly well-documented collections. This allows us to translate phylogenetic results into a stable systematic framework.
More than 420 Lactarius species have been described. They have traditionally been classified in 3 subgenera: Piperites, Russularia and Plinthogalus. This study includes more than 70% of the described diversity and more than 20 undescribed species. It proves there are at least 6 subgenera in Lactarius. The only traditional subgenus that receives high support is subg. Plinthogalus. Continental and regional endemism are high. We hypothesize that Lactarius originated in tropical Africa and that transoceanic dispersal occurred multiple times. Shifts in diversification rates in the genus will be explored and shed light on the importance of adaptive radiations in the history of Lactarius.
ITS barcoding of the European milk caps
Together with Dr. Ursula Eberhardt (Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History) I will test a large ITS dataset of European milk caps species for the goals of DNA barcoding. There are about 130 milk cap species known from Europe. For more than 120 of these we have at least one (but often more) ITS sequences available covering the whole of Europe. These sequences will be submitted to UNITE (http://unite.ut.ee/) and then clustering methods will be applied to test species delimitation using 97 to 99% ITS sequence similarity threshold values. Results will be compared to morphological and multi-gene based species delimitation. The resulting nearly complete ITS database will be a great help for molecular identification of milk caps in Europe.
Ongoing PhD theses:
- Delgat L. 2015-2019, Filling the gaps: completing the Lactifluus phylogeny by assessment of its biodiversity in Latin America and forming a bridge between taxonomists and environmental ecologists.
- De Lange R. 2015-2019
- De Crop 2010-2016, Molecular phylogenetic biodiversity assessment of tropical African ectomycorrhizal fungi, with an emphasis on Lactifluus.
Defended PhD theses:
- Wisitrassameewong K. 2011-2015, Diversity and phylogeny of Lactarius subgenus Russularia in South-East Asia.
- Le Thanh H. 2002-2006, Biodiversity of the genus Lactarius (Basidiomycota) in Northern Thailand.
- Stubbe D. 2006-2012, Systematics and phylogeny of Lactarius subgenus Plinthogalus sensu lato.
- Van de Putte K. 2008-2012, Hidden diversity exposed. A case study of Lactifluus volemus sensu lato