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Myco-Consortium talk April 13: James Dalling

As part of the MST's membership in the Myco-Consortium series of Zoom talks, MST members are invited to join the presentation on Thursday, April 13th at 7pm ET:

Seeds & Fungi

A talk by James Dalling
Thursday April 13th, 7pm ET

Plant-fungal interactions are ubiquitous. For a forest ecologist interested in how plant species are distributed, compete for resources, and defend against their natural enemies, fungi are difficult, if not impossible, to ignore. Furthermore, fungi are now known to infect all plant tissues – from their roots and sapwood to flowers, leaves and seeds. In many cases these internal infections of plants by ‘endophytic fungi’ occur either without adverse impacts on the plant host, or with impacts that vary depending on the identity of the host species.

Jim will review the breadth of endophytic fungal infections, and some of the impacts these have on their hosts. He will then describe the work he and his team are conducting in lowland tropical forest in Panama on the fungi that infect seeds of tree species that depend on soil seed banks to successfully regenerate after disturbance. Using a combination of carbon-dating, seed burial experiments, fungal culturing and inoculation experiments they have found a high degree of host specificity of seed fungi. These fungal infections can be viewed as the ‘primary symbionts’ that plants encounter, with impacts on seed germination and survival that are a consequence both of the fungi themselves, as well as bacteria that live within the fungal hyphae.

Understanding how seed infecting fungi impact seed survival patterns can help us understand how tropical forest diversity is maintained, and also has applications for the protection of crop seeds and the management of weed species in agricultural systems.

About James Dalling

James Dalling is Professor of Tropical Ecology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a Research Associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama. He completed an undergraduate degree in Botany at Oxford University and a PhD at Cambridge University studying the regeneration of tropical montane forests in Jamaica. He moved to Panama as a post-doctoral researcher in 1992 and spent eight years working on seed dispersal and seedling ecology on Barro Colorado Island, a field station in the Panama Canal. This work led to the discovery that fungi are a major determinant of seed survival in the soil. His current research explores plant-mycorrhizal effects on species distributions in montane forests, the assembly of communities of wood decay fungi in terrestrial and aquatic habitats, and the host-specificity and demographic impact of seed-infecting fungi. His seed work has led to the discovery that fungi can have both mutualistic and pathogenic effects on seeds, depending on the host species they infect.

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