A1.7 Mycorrhizal fungi of Ericaceae
PI(s) for this project:
Origin, diversification and maintenance of mycorrhizal fungi of Ericaceae in a mountain ecosystem of southern Ecuador
The majority of northern Andean plants originate from the Amazon lowland tropical forest, but ericads are suspected to have invaded from North America, radiating and forming an endemic Andean clade. Ericads form bushy heath lands, but in the northern Andeans and Meso-America they occur additionally as hemiepiphytes in the tropical mountain forests. Ericads depend on symbiotic root fungi (mycorrhizas) for nutrient acquisition, however, biogeography of the mycobionts has not been investigated so far. The research project aims to clarify inasmuch ericads invaded into the Andes in association with distinct mycobionts carried in from North America, new fungal clades coevolving with the Andean clade of ericads, or if the mycobionts are ubiquitously present and unspecific in respect to hosts. This knowledge is needed in order to predict which fungi are essential to regenerate Andean ericads after loss by forest clearing. The project also aims to contribute to the hypothesis that ericads invaded South America during geological times where the landscape was covered by a bushy heath land, giving priority to mycobionts adapted to these conditions. Mycobionts will be identified in ericads from Ecuador, Costa Rica and North Carolina (USA) by molecular tools and present and paleo-climate conditions will be considered in cooperation with the research unit.