MushroomsTom Bruns

“Mycorrhizal fungi: how they interact with our native plants”
Guest Speaker: Tom Bruns

7:30 p.m. – Online Zoom Presentation
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The overwhelming majority of plants have a mutually beneficial association with fungi in their roots. These mycorrhizal symbioses function like markets in which plants “purchase” mineral nutrients from fungi using sugars the plants produce in photosynthesis. This talk will cover the basic features of mycorrhizal symbioses and will emphasize the way that they affect plant growth and distributions.

The fungi involved are obligately associated with the plants, meaning that they are unable to grow and reproduce in the absence of a mycorrhizal association. Plants vary in their dependence with some (e.g., Pinaceae, Fagaceae) that are obligately associated with the mycorrhizal fungi. Others (e.g., Fescue spp.) are facultatively associated and can live without the association.

Most plants can associate with many, unrelated, mycorrhizal fungi, but some non-photosynthetic plants (e.g. Monotropoideae, Corallorhiza spp.) are highly specific to small groups of closely-related fungi. This dependence on specific fungi likely limits distributions of these plants.

Conversely, most fungi can associate with multiple plant species, but a few are specific to particular plants. Some, such as Suillus and Rhizopogon are specific to particular genera in the Pinaceae, and they enable invasions of their plant hosts by providing “spore banks” that allow their host to find compatible fungi at the edge of the forest where other compatible mycorrhizal fungi are not available.

Tom Bruns is an emeritus professor in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. He received an MS in Botany from the University of Minnesota in 1982, where he worked on insect mycophagy in the boletes, and a PhD in Botany from the University of Michigan in 1987, where he worked on the molecular systematics of Suillus. He served as a postdoctoral associate at UC Berkeley from 1987-1989, where he developed PCR methods for use in fungal systematics and ecology, before joining the faculty in 1989. His publication record includes over 200 papers primarily in the fields of fungal ecology and systematics:  https://scholar.google.com/citations?hl=en&user=9i2wHgMAAAAJ&view_op=list_works&sortby=pubdate.                                                                                                                   

He is best known for his work in ectomycorrhizal systems where he has contributed to our understanding of community and population structure, spore banks, mycoheterotrophic plants, spore dispersal, and molecular method development. His current work is focused on post-fire saprobic fungal communities, and involves experimental fire manipulations, coupled with gene expression and soil metabolomics.

He has mentored 19 PhD students and 19 postdoctoral associates. He has taught multiple courses on mycology at Berkeley and won the Weston Teaching Award from Mycological Society of America in 2007 and the Distinguished Teaching Award from the College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley for his efforts. He served as president of the Mycological Society of America in 2011-2012, the president of International Mycorrhiza Society from 2015-2017, and received the Distinguished Mycologist Award in 2018 from the Mycological Society of America for his career achievements in the field.

More details on his early path into mycology can be gleaned from his interview for the Oral History for Mycology: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlUeRjUTb2U