Restoration and Conservation of Rural and Urban Forests

Mycology (Study of Mushrooms and Other Fungi)

Dr. Beatriz Ortiz-Santana collects fungi in a forest clearing.Why Fungi Matter to Forests

Fungi are an extremely important part of forest ecosystems. Saprotrophic fungi break down leaves, brush and dead trees, returning carbon and nutrients to the forest soil. Mycorrhizal fungi grow along tree roots and increase the tree’s ability to absorb nutrients. There are also fungi that can damage the health of the forest or sicken and kill wildlife. One example is the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome (WNS) which is having a devastating impact on bat populations in some parts of the United States. Myrtle rust, Dutch elm disease, and oak wilt are examples of tree diseases caused by fungi.

Understanding the Complex World of Fungi

The scientists in our research unit (NRS-16) use cutting-edge tools and technologies to identify fungi and study the many roles of fungi in forests. Because new molecular tools and genetic sequencing have created a tremendous amount of environmental data, today’s mycologist must bridge centuries of past microscopy work with present and future approaches to understanding fungi.

Our Center for Forest Mycology Research has the world’s largest collection of forest-related fungi – over 20,000 living cultures and 50,000 dried specimens. Researchers from around the world use the collection to study the biosystematics (classification, identification, and genetics) of fungi. Pharmaceutical and manufacturing companies have used specimens from the collection to search for extracts and enzymes for use in medicines and industrial processes.

What This Research Means

Foresters and other land managers are always looking for ways to improve the health and resilience of forests. By improving our understanding of fungal communities in forest ecosystems around the world, we provide the tools and knowledge to make forest management and restoration more successful.

Follow the links below to learn more about our research on different kinds of fungi.

Research Summaries


Last Modified: May 14, 2019