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Wednesday, April 10, 2019 at 12:20pm
Integrative Biology, University of Illinois
Andrew Miller is an Affiliate in the School of Integrative Biology at the University of Illinois. He received his PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2003.
With an estimated 1.5 million species, fungi constitute the most diverse group of eukaryotic organisms on earth, second only to insects in the number of species thought to exist. However, only 80,000 species or 5% of fungi have been described so far indicating a great deal of fungal biodiversity remains to be discovered. Ascomycetes constitute the largest known group of fungi with over 32,000 species, of which pyrenomycetes account for almost 25%. Pyrenomycetes are an economically and ecologically important group of fungi in that they contain the “fruit flies” of the fungal world (i.e. Neurospora crassa, Podospora anserina, Sordaria fimicola) as well as significant destructive pathogens including the causative agents of chestnut blight (Cryphonectria parasitica), dutch elm disease (Ophiostoma ulmi), and the recently discovered beech bark disease (Nectria coccinea).
Phylogenetic relationships of ascomycetes, especially those in the Class Sordariomycetes, are poorly known. My research incorporates modern molecular techniques with traditional taxonomic methods to test morphological-based classifications from the ordinal level to the species level. Well-supported phylogenies provide clues as to which morphological characters may be informative for predicting evolutionary relationships and which are misleading. In most cases, molecular phylogenies do not reflect current classifications leading to new insights regarding character evolution in pyrenomycetes.
We are currently conducting an inventory of the pyrenomycetes of Great Smoky Mountains National Park to determine their diversity, abundance, distribution, seasonality, and host specificity throughout the Park. This data will greatly add to our understanding of the biology and natural history of these organisms. Surveys currently being conducted in tropical regions will allow us to better understand biogeographical patterns of pyrenomycetes throughout the New World.