Associate Professor, School of Integrative Plant Science Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section
Fungi: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
Fungi play important and complex roles in our landscapes, whether they’re “bad” pathogens, or “good” symbionts… or something else. They can shift nutrient balances; they help build soils and sequester carbon; they play a role in a plant’s ability to establish and thrive. Some fungi eat toxins; others make them. Almost all plants are mycorrhizal with one or (usually) more fungi. Lately we have learned a lot about mycorrhizal symbioses, and the ways they interact with invasive plants. I’ll share some background and introduce ideas about how fungi can influence landscapes, nudging you to notice and learn more about them. Depending on your spirit of adventure, any talk about fungi is either frustrating for all its “we don’t knows,” or vastly exciting for all the “unexplored frontiers.” For me? the latter!
I am a mycologist with a focus on the classification, evolution, and characterization of fungi, particularly those that cause newly characterized diseases. Fungi are a particularly poorly known group, with only about 5% of species formally described. My focus is in fungal biodiversity, especially of species that are pathogens of insects, and molds that spoil foods. I use molecular and morphological approaches to discover their relationships, devise classification systems, and understand factors that have driven their evolution. I direct the Cornell Plant Pathology Herbarium (CUP), a world-class collection that documents the biodiversity of fungi and plant disease organisms. I teach classes and do public outreach to build a greater understanding of fungi and their roles in our lives.