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Fungi of Borneo

Posted on 18-04-2017 by József Geml

Borneo’s montane forests represent a diversity hot spot for ectomycorrhizal fungi. József Geml, Luis Morgado, Tatiana Semenova-Nelsen, and Menno Schilthuizen, all from Naturalis, have published the first large-scale study on the fungi on Mt. Kinabalu, Borneo.

Cover photo: Montane forests in Kinabalu Park in Sabah, Malaysia, with examples of ectomycorrhizal fungi that grow in these mid-elevation forests. Photos: József Geml

Fungi represent one of the largest groups of living organisms and they play major roles in ecosystem processes. However, the determinants of fungal diversity and biogeographic patterns remain poorly understood.

The researchers generated and analyzed DNA sequence data from ectomycorrhizal fungi. These fungi form symbiotic relationships with trees and shrubs and form sheaths around the roots. The samples were collected from various forest types representing all elevation zones in Borneo, from low-elevation dipterocarp forests to the subalpine forests and shrubs just below summit of Mt. Kinabalu, 4095 m high.

Mount Kinabalu. Photo: Menno Schilthuizen

The study shows that many ectomycorrhizal fungi are restricted to a certain elevation zone and that the mid-elevation montane forests (between 1000 and 2000 m above sea level) harbor the highest diversity of these fungi. Furthermore, the specificity of ectomycorrhizal fungi to a given habitat makes them ideal habitat indicators for potential application on ecosystem studies, conservation, and biomonitoring.

In addition to being the first elevation gradient study on ectomycorrhizal fungi in the Old World Tropics, the authors highlighted several unidentified groups of fungi that may represent newly discovered species. Future studies are needed to clarify the taxonomic status of these. The researchers emphasize the need for the integration of fungi into a general macroecological framework and in biodiversity assessments.

The full article that was published in New Phytologist can be found here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/nph.14566/full


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