March 2004 – New Grant to Study Seed-Associated Fungi
Postdoc Betsy Arnold and collaborator James W. Dalling (University of Illinois) have been awarded an NSF grant to study the diversity, distribution, and demographic effects of seed-associated fungi inCecropia (Urticaceae). Recent work regarding the ecological impact of fungal pathogens on adult plants and seedlings in tropical forests has revealed that fungal diseases can play a significant role in determining demography, spatial distributions, and population genetic structure of their hosts. Equally important, however, are the hidden effects of seed-infecting fungi that constrain seedling recruitment by limiting seed survival in the soil. Seed-infecting fungi are likely to play an especially critical role for pioneer species that depend upon transient or persistent soil seed banks for colonization of infrequent canopy disturbances. Arnold and colleagues will conduct a detailed ecological and molecular taxonomic characterization of the suite of seed-infecting fungi (endophytes, saprophytes, and pathogens) associated with multiple species of Cecropia in three neotropical sites (Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador).