Donald Pfister

Donald Pfister

Asa Gray Professor of Systematic Botany
Curator of the Farlow Library and Herbarium

Ascomycota and Mycorrhizae of the Southern Beech Forests

The forests of much of southern Chile are dominated by species of the genus Nothofagus, the so-called southern beech.  These are trees of importance in commerce and in the ecosystems services they provide.  An earlier field trip supported by DRCLAS allowed Donald Pfister and then postdoctoral fellow Matthew Smith to visit several Nothofagus forests in southern Chile to search for fungi that were earlier documented, but not subsequently studied, by Harvard botanist Roland Thaxter,  collections from 1905-1906.   Today, through preservation efforts, some of theNothofagus forests have been protected. In the initial survey they were able to recollect some of the species Thaxter saw and extend the study by doing molecular sequence analysis. Use of these specimens in studies by Smith, Pfister and others has indicated that in several instances these fungi are involved in symbiotic associations with Nothofagus. These symbioses, mycorrhizae, are fungal associations of the roots of Nothofagusspecies. Even with the preliminary data that is at hand from earlier studies, there is a suspicion that there are several lineages of mycorrhizal fungi that have not previously been characterized. Pfister is one of the few practicing mycologists who has the experience with these fungi of the orderPezizales to assign accurate and meaningful identification.  Under this grant we were able to recollect several of the species that were previously found but also several new collections.  We will now further identify these collections and envision the publication of several taxa. A current collaborative research field trip funded by DRCLAS allowed further general collecting that will contribute to some broad conclusions to be drawn regarding austral distributions of these fungi.  The exploratory work on the Ascomycota involved in mycorrhizal formation with Nothofagus is the main focus.  Through this work, not only will new information be gained regarding the diversity of the fungi involved, but also preliminary insight might be gained in the effects of forest changes on microbial communities.  Collaborations were established in Chile, particularly with Patagonia Sur, that help to build and enhance work on conserving these trees and forests.

Participating Harvard Faculty: Donald Pfister, Dean of the Summer School; Asa Gray Professor of Systematic Botany and Curator of the Farlow Library and Herbarium                                                                               

Collaborators: Matthew Smith, Assistant Professor, Department of Plant Pathology University of Florida                                                                                                                                                           

Collaborating Institutions University of Florida, Patagonia Sur


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