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Study of plant and fungal communities

We study the ecology of plant and fungal communities. We are especially interested in the symbiosis between plants and fungi known as mycorrhizae.

Goals of our research

The goals of our research are to: 1) better understand how plant and fungal communities assemble in nature, 2) examine the ecophysiological interactions between plants and their fungal partners and, 3) synthesize how variations in biotic and abiotic conditions alter the ecological outcomes and evolutionary trajectories of plant-fungal interactions.

Our approach

To address these questions, we incorporate field and greenhouse studies with molecular and physiological approaches.

Current projects

Bromeliads as a model system for microbiome community ecology

Bromeliads have long been touted as model microcosms for understanding macro-food web ecology. However, bromeliads offer numerous additional advantages for studying the underlying mechanisms of microbial community ecology. Supported by the National Science Foundation we are using tank bromeliads as microbiome mesocosms to better understand how microbiome community composition and diversity effects food web architecture and efficiency. This is a collaborative project with three other research groups at UH Manoa, the Amend Lab the Medeiros Lab and the Sadowski Lab.


C-MAIKI: Center for Microbiome Analysis through Island Knowledge and Investigation

With the acknowledgment that microbes underpin the health and function of most life and ecosystems on earth, we have set out to study the causes and consequences of microbial diversity within the Waimea watershed on the North Shore of Oahu. This interdisciplinary project includes faculty, staff and students from nine units across the University of Hawaii at Manoa including Oceanography, Mathematics, Botany and the Pacific Biosciences Research Center. By establishing the first microbiome observatory we hope to address such question as how does the environment structure microbiomes? And how does the microbiome influence host health?


Local mycorrhizal fungi as a tool for endangered plant species conservation and restoration

In collaboration with Oahu Army Natural Resources Program, The National Tropical Botanical Garden and Lyon Arboretum Rare Plant Program we are testing the effects of inoculating rare and endangered native species of Gardenia with local mycorrhizal fungi propagated from the plants’ extant or historic distributions. The goals of this project are to determine whether preinoculation with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi increases the health of gardenia seedlings in captivity and the wild when outplanted. This is one of various ongoing projects aimed and preserving Hawaii’s native flora through a better understanding of local mycorrhizal relationships.

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Ecological feedbacks across trophic levels and their effects on alternative stable states and restoration of tropical forests

The goals of this collaborative project funded by The National Science Foundation are as follows:

1) Advance our understanding of alternative stable state theory as it applies to restoration.

2) Evaluate how ecosystem condition is affected by priority effects, multiple potential feedbacks and the presence/loss of key species.

3) Determine whether all potential feedbacks must be addressed simultaneously, or whether manipulation of individual state variables can drive change.

Collaborators include Dr. Stephanie Yelenik and Dr. Eben Paxton from USGS Hawaii, Dr. Carla D’Antonio from UC Santa Barbara and Dr. Erin Mordecai from Stanford University. Our lab is specifically interested in the role of arbuscular and ericoid mycorrhizal fungi in abetting native plant seedling establishment and the feedbacks between vegetation type, soil environment, and mycorrhizal fungi.



Modeling the co-invasions of Pines and their ectomycorrhizal fungi

Pines are one of the most invasive tree species in the world yet they are not capable of flourishing without their obligate ectomycorrhizal (EM) fungal partners. In Hawaii there are no native pine-associated EM fungi, but these fungi have been introduced to the Islands allowing pines and their own populations to establish and invade. In collaboration with Dr. Travis Idol from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management and Dr. Daisuke Takagi from the Math Department we are studying how pines and their EM fungi disperse across the landscape and using these data to build predictive models to better understand the dispersal dynamics of co-invasions.



Previous projects

Biogeography of tropical terrestrial orchids and their mycorrhizal fungi

The Tropics are known for their abundance and diversity of orchids. However, orchid distributions tend to be patchy, and not all tropical habitats that are potentially conducive to orchid establishment harbor a diversity of species. For example, the Hawaiian Islands are host to only three native orchid species, which are also endemic. Using tropical oceanic islands as a model system we are interested in teasing apart how the biogeography of orchid mycorrhizal fungi, host-partner specificity, and island geography determine regional orchid diversity. Concurrently, many tropical orchids are at risk of extinction, so an additional goal of our research is to assist in the restoration and propagation of threatened native orchids and their mycorrhizal fungi.


Temporal changes in fungal aerobiota

Many fungi are excellent long distant disperses with spores that can travel across oceans and continents in air currents. However, little is known about how these communities of aerobiota change over time and in relationship to climate. Due to the isolation of the Hawaiian Islands we are well situated to study long distance dispersal. So, in collaboration with NOAA we are analyzing fungal aerobiota captured over the last decade in air samplers from the Mauna Loa Observatory on Hawaii Island. Using fine-scale climate data collected at the observatory we can relate fungal community composition to prevailing wind, rain, and periodic storm events. The outcomes of this research will provide baseline line data on how fungal communities change over relatively long time periods and in relationship to global change parameters.

Mycobiome restoration of native Hawaiian plants

In collaboration with the Amend Lab at the University of Hawaii Manoa and Oahu Army Natural Resources Program we are testing the effects of innoculating some of Hawaii’s most threatened and endangered plant species with local arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and endophytic fungi to see if ex situ restoration of plants’ mycobiomes leads to greater survival rates in the wild.



Effects of plant invasions on mycorrhizal fungi and native plant communities

With the Oahu Army Natural Resources Program, we are working to understand how plant invasions modify mycorrhizal fungal communities. Most plants in Hawaii, both native plants and non-native associate with arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF). However, it is currently unknown how plant invasions may alter the species richness, abundance or composition of AMF and in-turn plant community dynamics. Thus, the goals of this research are two-fold:

1) determine how aboveground plant invasions alter belowground communities of AMF

2) provide local land managers with information on how these alterations may influence native plant restoration success.


    Funding Sources


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