Professor Lynne Boddy
I am a decomposition ecologist / fungal ecologist. I have researched the ecology of wood decomposition, including wood decomposition processes, synecology and autecology, since the mid 1970s. I have pioneered work on the fungal community structure and dynamics of wood. I investigate the outcome of fungal interactions in artificial and more natural conditions, how these change depending on biotic and abiotic factors, and use this information to explain patterns of fungal community structure and development. I have begun to relate community structure and development to decomposition rate. A deeper understanding of interactions and their effects is now coming from studying gene expression during interspecific interactions in near natural conditions, and production of volatile and diffusible organic compounds during mycelial interactions. I have investigated the network architecture of mycelia growing in soil, and my work has revealed the foraging ecology and key roles of cord-forming basidiomycetes in nutrient translocation and wood decay in forest ecosytems. My group has made major advances in understanding the effects of invertebrate grazing on fungal foraging, communities and nutrient release. Recent work has revealed major phenological trends in fungal fruiting (implying major changes in mycelial activity), crucial to ecosystem functioning. I am a leading authority on basidiomycete ecology, and have published over 250 papers and books on the ecology of wood decomposition.
Education and outreach
For many people, when fungi are mentioned their first reaction is "can I eat it or will it kill me?" or "yuk ! how can we get rid of them?; they rot our food and homes, kill our plants and even sometimes grow on us". However, without fungi the terrestrial ecosystems of planet Earth would not work. Fungi are the major decomposers of dead plants, releasing nutrients and feeding plants with water and mineral nutrients. Lichens are fungi plus a photosynthetic organism, and in vast tracts of tundra are the main primary producers. Fungi are hugely important sources of food to invertebrates and many vertebrates, including man: cultivated fruit bodies; yeast in bread, beer, wine and Marmite; soy sauce; some meat substitutes, such as Quorn; it is fungi that develop the fragrance and flavour of 'blue cheese', as well as the texture of Camembert; and most cheese production these days uses a fungal enzyme to coagulate the curds. Fungi produce many 'wonder drugs', including penicillin and other antibiotics, the statins that control cholesterol, and cyclosporine, which prevents transplant tissue rejection; and other industrial chemicals, and bioethanol – an alternative to fossil fuels. So, without fungi there would be no fertile soil, no plant life, no herbivores, no carnivores and no humans.
I am a keen advocate, aiming to get this fascinating fungal message across to a wider audience, by giving talks, participating in biology/nature events and through the media. Events include UK Fungus Day (which she is now trying to expand to international Fungus Day), the Natural History Museum's 'Big Nature Day', the BBC 'Summer of Wildlife', and the RHS Chelsea Flower show, at which, I was a prime mover with the British Mycological Society Gold Medal winning exhibt "Out of sight out of mind" in 2009. As well as being a hit with the judges, the display received wide acclaim from the public, and the 3.5 min prime time BBC TV slot. Also, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall spent 7 or 8 minutes viewing the display and discussing the importance of fungi to our planet, as well as considering culinary delights. This success has been followed by a large exhibition on "Amazing Fungi" which ran for 4 months at the royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in 2010, and since then has been housed at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, where it has been viewed by several hundred thousand visitors. Published at the same time as the start of this exhibition, "From Another Kingdom" – aimed at a general interested audience – is RBGEs best selling book.
I have spoken about fungi in numerous Radio and TV programmes and film documentaries, including, Radio 4 Farming Today, Saving Species, Living World, Forum, BBC World Service, Radio Wales, BBC TV ' Afterlife', 'Great British Food Revival', 'The One Show' and Chanel 4's 'Sunday Brunch'. She and her team also participated in the award winning French produced film "Will fungi help save the world ?" first shown on the European cultural television channel 'Arte' in Autumn 2013. I am also an active member of the British Mycological Society, of which I was president in 2009/10, and have organized on their behalf many conferences not only for academics but also for the wider public.
I am joint author of Wood Decomposition: its Biology and Ecology, and of over 200 papers on microbial ecology. I am a woodland fungal ecologist, especially interested in community function and development in fallen wood and standing trees, mycelial interactions, foraging and translocation by cord-forming fungi, interactions between saprotrophic, mycorrhizal and root-pathogenic mycelia, fungus-invertebrate interactions, and the effect of climate change on fungi.
Contributions to this field have been recognized by receipt of the British Mycological Society (BMS) Berkeley Award in 1989, and the 1991 Society of General Microbiology Fleming Lectureship. I ggave the Ohn Karling lecture to the Mycological Society of America in 1999, and was awarded a Personal Chair in 1996. I was vice-president of the British Mycological Society in 1995 and am now serving again on BMS Council, publications committees and program committee. I have organised numerous national BMS and International symposia on various aspects of fungal ecology, most recently being the BMS Meeting "Ecology of Fungal Communities ( Manchester, 2007). I am the chief editor of the newly launched BMS/Elsevier journal "Fungal Ecology". I have collaborated widely on ecological projects, both in the UK and abroad.
I am also interested in the application of mathematical and computing techniques to answer biological questions. In particular the use of graph theory to understand the properties of fungal mycelial network architecture, in collaboration with Mark Fricker ( University of Oxford). We have also made considerable advances in identification of phyloplankton from flow cytometry data using artificial neural networks, working in collaboration with Colin Morris ( University of Glamorgan). I am a member of the editorial board of "Ecological Informatics", and the organising committee of the International Conference on Ecological Informatics.
Interactions between saprotrophic fungi
Funding bodies: NERC
BIOSI collaborators: Hilary J. Rogers, Carsten Müller and T. Hefin Jones
External collaborators: Daniel P. Eastwood (Swansea University)
Research staff and PhD students: Jenifer Hiscox, Melanie Savoury, George Clarkson
Basidiomycete fungi are the major agents of decomposition and nutrient cycling in forest ecosystems. Different species and individuals encounter each other both within colonized organic substrata and in soil/leaf litter during outgrowth in search of new resources. They defend and obtain new territory by combative, antagonistic interactions. These interactions are, thus, crucial to fungal community development and functioning in dead organic matter. The overall outcomes are deadlock, where neither species gains headway, or replacement where one species wrests territory from the other, but sometimes partial replacement or mutual replacement. Outcomes vary depending on species, site of interaction (i.e. in soil or wood etc.), microclimate and relative size of mycelia and resources occupied etc. Outcome of interactions can be affected by microclimate and resource status amongst others. Recently we have shown that soil invertebrate grazing alters mycelial interactions, dramatically. With the complexity of multiple species and environmental conditions, many different antagonistic mechanisms operate. Responses to antagonists include rapid cell division and death, production of pigments, volatile (VOCs) and diffusible organic compounds, and other antimicrobial agents. We are trying to understand both how interspecific fungal interactions determine fungal community structure and development, and the underlying mechanisms of antagonism. Ultimately we want to know how wood decay communities function in natural ecosystems. We are investigating the physiological changes during interactions between species of decay fungi in wood representing the succession from primary coloniser to secondary and tertiary decomposers, under differing environmental conditions, using new post-genomic tools to allow us to get a complete picture of the genes that are switched on and off during interactions.
Fungal invertebrate interactions
Funding bodies: NERC
BIOSI collaborators: T. Hefin Jones
External Collaborators: Ellen Kandeler (University of Hohenheim, Germany), Liliane Ruess (Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany)
PhD students: A. Donald A’Bear
Many invertebrates are attracted to fungal mycelia and fruit bodies, upon which they may graze and in which they may breed. The mycelial morphology and physiological/biochemical functioning of saprotrophic soil basidiomycetes can alter dramatically in the presence of nematodes, collembolan, woodlice and other invertebrates. Detailed studies of the effects of soil invertebrates on saprotrophic cord-forming fungi have revealed dramatic changes to mycelial patterns in laboratory soil microcosm studies. These changes depend both on invertebrate grazer species and on fungal species.
In turn, soil fungi influence soil invertebrate populations. In our most recent studies we have come closer to the real world by using soil mesocosms and also by manipulating presence/absence of cord-forming fungi and the size of woodlice populations in soil in deciduous woodland. Metagenomic sequencing, enzyme assays, fungal biomass assessment and invertebrate counts are revealing effects of invertebrate grazing on soil microbial community structure and functioning. There are both bottom up and top down effects. A recent paper on this by A’Bear et al. (2013) Bottom-up determination of soil collembola diversity and population dynamics in response to interactive climatic factors., Oecologia 173, 1083-1087. (DOI: 10.3410/f.718002562.793489295), was selected for F1000Prime, and recommended as being of special significance in its field.
Ecology of endangered woodland basidiomycetes
Funding bodies: Natural England
External collaborators: A. Martyn Ainsworth (Kew Gardens)
BIOSI collaborator: Hilary J. Rogers
Post-docs: David Parfitt
We are seeking to reveal whether a set of wood decomposer and ectomycorrhizal species, thought to be rare based on paucity of fruiting records, are actually rare and endangered, and if so then why? Fungi in the genus Hericium (hedgehog fungi) are decomposers of wood and other plant litter. H. erinaceum is a UK BAP priority species, and H. coralloides appears even rarer, H. cirrhatum is also uncommon. Concentrating on these species, we have obtained probably the most in depth autecological knowledge of any putatively rare fungal species. In a similar project with Piptoporus quercinus – the rare oak polypore, we have found that populations appear to be inbred, sexual spores rarely germinate, but thick-walled asexual spores allow survival under adverse microclimate. Having developed specific PCR primers for these BAP fungi we are now in a position to discover whether they are really rare or whether they just produce visible fruit bodies infrequently.
Some mycorrhizal basidiomycetes are also rare or endangered, particularly stipitate hydnoids and some boletes. These fungi are not currently culturable and fruit bodies of some species are often hard to distinguish from those of others. Before we can investigate their ecology we need to be able to identify them (both as fruit bodies and as mycelia). Currently we are using molecular approaches to reveal cryptic taxa, and to construct species specific PCR primers.
Foraging patterns, and architecture of mycelia systems in soil
Funding bodies: NERC
External collaborators: Mark D. Fricker (University of Oxford)
Wood-decaying basidiomycete fungi are the major agents of decomposition in forests and hence crucial to nutrient cycling. On the forest floor, decay fungi that produce ‘root-like’ linear organs - termed cords, exhibit remarkable patterns of biomass and nutrient reallocation on locating new resources. They also deploy biomass differently and operate different search patterns depending on species, microclimatic regime, nutrient status of the system and surrounding soil.
We are seeking to understand how the balance between the metabolic requirements of the fungus and the need to conserve nutrients determines the patterns of mycelial system development, and the rates, routes and direction of nutrient (N, P, K) movement within mycelial systems, particularly the common woodland fungi Phanerochaete velutina, Phallus impudicus (stinkhorn), Hypholoma fasciculare (sulphur tuft) and Resinicium bicolor.
Image analysis and fractal geometry has revealed polarised growth of mycelial cord systems of P. velutina towards newly encountered resources even when these are relatively small. N, P, K status of both soil and the resource from which the fungus is growing critically affects foraging behaviour and fractal dimension, and the response of mycelia to newly encountered resources. Phosphorus is moved from existing to newly-encountered resources. However, local supply of phosphorus from soil adjacent to the new resource is up to 100 times greater than that moved in from elsewhere.
We are also seeking to understand the enzymology associated with obtaining nutrients from dead organic matter in nature. We have just begun to investigate spatial and temporal variation in enzyme activity in wood and soil associated with different regions of mycelium, with Peter Baldrian.
The complex mycelial networks that form in soil are constantly being remodelled in response to nutrient discovery and demand, changes in microclimate and destructive disturbance, e.g. by invertebrate grazers. We are currently investigating, mathematically, the architecture of networks, routes between different regions, resilience to damage, etc. using graph/network theory, in collaboration with Mark Fricker at Oxford.
Detection, distribution and identification of pioneer fungi latently present in functional sapwood
Funding bodies: Royal Society
External collaborator: Dmitry Schigel
Wood decomposition and fungal community development begins while branches are still in the canopy and trunks still standing. In at least eight angiosperm tree species, extensive (several to many metres) decay columns develop in less than one growing season. These decay columns are much longer than could be achieved by a fungus extending by mycelial growth from a single inoculum point. Instead, fungal propagules are extensively but sparsely distributed throughout the sap stream, but do not develop overtly because of the high water content. Thus, if the high water content (low O2, low nutrient availability) of functional sapwood is removed then mycelia will develop from these propagules, will quickly meet and if they are the same genotype they will fuse and act as a single individual. This has been shown to be the case in all broadleaved trees that we have tested, though with some species genetic differences in mycelia resulted in long decay columns containing several or sometimes many different fungal individuals.
Many questions remain, and to attempt to answer these we need sensitive techniques. Thus, we are using PCR-based approaches and 454 sequencing to begin to test the following hypotheses, which is essential to understand fully the early stages of tree death and wood decay in the natural environment:
- All woodland angiosperm trees contain wood decay fungi latently present within functional sapwood.
- Conifers also have wood decay fungi latently present within functional sapwood
- Fungi latently present in one tree species have a much wider distribution in other species than has been shown to date by conventional methodologies, i.e. are not host-specific.
- In addition to known and suspected latent fungi, there are many other fungal species, which have not been identified as such.
- The spatial distribution of latently present fungi varies between fungal species.
Funding bodies: NERC
BIOSI Collaborators: Andrew Weightman, Eshwar Mahenthiralingam
External Collaborators: Wietse de Boer (Hetersen, The Netherlands) and Peter Baldrian ( Prague, Czech Republic)
Research staff and PhD students: Jenifer Hiscox, Sarah Johnston
Being ubiquitous, bacteria must frequently interact with fungal mycelia in nature, yet hitherto this has received very little attention. We have recently shown that saprotrophic mycelial cords growing in woodlands have a variety of bacteria closely associated with them, including members of the Burkholderiaceae. Laboratory soil microcosm studies have revealed that fungal mycelia have species specific effects on the adhering microbial community, and also that bacteria are rapidly suppressed during fungal colonization of wood.
Although bacteria are thought to have little direct effect on wood decay, they do interact with wood decay fungi and may make important contributions to the process in a range of different ways. Bacteria compete for the fungal-derived products of wood breakdown, and fungi have evolved mechanisms inhibitory to bacterial activity. A preliminary study indicates specific associations between the fungus colonizing wood and bacterial community diversity and abundance. The aim of ongoing work is to investigate, experimentally in the laboratory and field, the effects of different wood decay fungal species and stage of wood decomposition on bacterial community structure, activities and interactions.
Climate change effects on fungi
External Collaborators: Hävard Kauserud (University of Oslo, Norway), Alan Gange (Royal Holloway, University of London), Paul Kirk (Kew), Ulf Büntgen and Simon Egli (ETH Zurich), Einar Heegaard (Norwegian Forest and Landscape Institute)
Fungi provide vital ecosystem services through decomposition, nutrient cycling and soil aggregation, and are an important during consideration of ecosystem responses to global change. We have analysed data sets from the UK, Norway, Austria and Switzerland. From information we have revealed that fruiting phenology is changing in many European countries: on average, the fruiting season is extending, though for some species it is contracting; different species and ecological groups behave differently; time of fruiting depends on geographical location; some fungi now fruit early in the year as well as in autumn, and spring fruiting is getting earlier; some fungi appear to be changing hosts; the amount, duration and frequency of fruiting are influenced by numerous environmental factors. These changes are not only important in terms of extending the duration of production of fungal sexual spores, but more significantly fungi are now active over much longer periods, hence effecting decomposition.
We are now extending our analyses to: cover more European countries; determine whether detailed local data sets provide similar results to more diffuse national datasets; look more closely at different ecological groups of fungi; determine whether ‘host preferences’ have changed; determine whether there are changes in patterns of fruiting of fungi whose ecology is closely linked, e.g. host/parasite and predecessor/successors in community development.