Why is there so much variation in spore morphology among fungal species?

I am part of a team of researchers uncovering a large inter-specific variation in the traits of fungal spores: the structures that many fungi use to reproduce (similar to seeds and eggs). I am interested in determining whether such variation correspond to particular habitats or lifestyles (for example, are larger spores are more common in certain habitats while smaller spores are more common in others?)

I am particularly interested in addressing this question with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi because I have expertise with this group and because of their important role as symbionts for plants. For this question, I am working in close collaboration with Jeff Powell at Western Sydney University and Bala Chaudhary at DePaul University.

You can check this publication to know more about this project:

Aguilar-Trigueros,C. A., Hempel, S., Powell, J. R., Cornwell, W. K., & Rillig, M. C. (2019). Bridging reproductive and microbial ecology: a case study in arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. The ISME Journal, 13(4), 873-884. and its github page

What kind of networks do fungi form when they grow?

The body of most fungi is unique because it grow as a dynamic network within which nutrients and information are transported. However, it is not clear how widely such networks vary among species or to what extent they are similar to other types of networks (like human ones). I am teaming up with researchers spanning several fields to characterize and understand the functionality of this diversity.

For example, I am working together with Mark Fricker at Oxford University to develop a pipeline to digitize fungal mycelia and transform it into a network (funded by Oxford/Berlin Research Partnership). Ultimately, our goal is to use this information to understand the origins of this interesting life form.

What traits are important in the assembly of the fungal-root microbiome?

Fungi have a constant love-hate relationship with plant roots. The result of this relationship is a complex and dynamic fungal community associated to roots. I am interested in identifying which traits (both from roots and fungi) determine the composition and abundance of this dynamic fungal community.

To answer this question I am at allocating soil fungi along a continuum of saptrotrophy-to-symbiosis using ecologically relevant traits. You can read about this in:

Aguilar-Trigueros, C. A.; Powell, Jeff R; Anderson, Ian C; Antonovics, Janis; Rillig, Matthias C. 2014. Ecological understanding of root-infecting fungi using trait-based approaches. Trends in plant science. 19 (7): 432-438.

Or you can watch my video abstract:

What are the causes and consequences of “fungal lifestyle turnover” – from local to global scales?

The fungal kingdom encompasses a wide diversity of lifestyles. As result of this diversity, fungi perform many functions in ecosystems. Some are well known, such as carbon cycling,or assisting plants in nutrient acquisition through symbiosis (e.g., mycorrhizae), while others receive less attention (like predators or parasites of animals).

I want to integrate this information about fungal lifestyles and functions into databases like FunToFun (which I have been collaborating on since 2016). This open-access database, led by Amy Zanne and Habacuc Flores-Moreno, aims at providing functional trait data for plant-associated fungi.

I want to use this data to understand how environmental changes determine the change in composition (turnover) of this diversity and its consequences on ecosystems.