I am fascinated by the diversity of both fungal species and fungal lifestyles. My work on lichens and fungal endophytes focuses on two classes within Ascomycota: Lecanoromycetes and Eurotiomycetes. As a systematist, I try to learn everything I can about these clades with a diverse toolkit of methods that range from molecular phylogenetics and comparative genomics to herbarium and archival research.
My current research fall into three main topics, outlines below.
Research on lichens needs to consider all partners in the symbiosis. I am particularly interested in the ways environment structures the distribution and mycobiont associations of Trebouxia, the most common photobiont of lichenized Lecanoromycetes. I have studied the Trebouxia–Lecanoraceae association along an elevation gradient in Bolivia and am currently working on Trebouxia biodiversity across South Africa and Namibia. I have also collaborated on a method for quantifying specialization in ecological interactions.
Evolution of Eurotiomycetes
Fungi in the class Eurotiomycetes have evolved myriad nutritional strategies, including lifestyles as diverse as plant, animal, and fungal pathogens; leaf and root endophytes; lichens; mycorrhizae; associations with insects; components of soil or rock crusts; and saprotrophs. Aside from being an ideal group to study the evolution of fungal lifestyles, Eurotiomycetes also contains economically important pathogens of humans and crop plants. In my research on Eurotiomycetes, I use genomic methods to study the evolutionary history and functional capabilities of species living as endophytes or endolichenic fungi.
Lichens of South Africa
I maintain a strong interest in alpha taxonomy, the documenting of biodiversity that underlies so much biological research. My work on describing new species of lichen-forming fungi focuses on southern Africa (e.g., Fryday et al. 2020 and in-review work on Graphidaceae). I also maintain an interest in the history of lichenology and ways in which historical research can shed light on scientific questions. For example, efforts to reveal the provenance of poorly documented type specimens can lead to a better understanding of where to look for those species.
Fieldwork in Namibia with Welwitschia mirabilis. Photo © 2019 by Reinaldo Vargas Castillo.