Project Overview

Diversity and evolution of fungal endophytes in native Hawaiian plants

Hawaiian plant sampling
Found inside the healthy leaf tissue of every plant species yet examined, foliar fungal endophytes have been shown to play a critical role in mediating how hosts interact with their abiotic environment and with other organisms including pathogens and herbivores. Though invisible to the naked eye, endophytic fungi form ubiquitous and hyperdiverse communities spanning hundreds of millions of years of evolutionary history. It is suspected that these cryptic symbionts comprise a large portion of the estimated 98% of fungal species diversity that remains undocumented.

This project consists of a systematic and comprehensive biological inventory of fungal foliar endophytes of native and endemic Hawaiian plants to accomplish the following goals: Hawaiian plant sampling
Our sampling strategy will leverage Hawaii’s unique isolation, diversity of habitats and spectacular flowering plant adaptive radiations to maximize endophyte species recovery, while enabling insight into evolutionary, biogeographical and community assembly processes. Combining culture-based methods, next-generation environmental sequencing and stored banks of genomic DNA from critically endangered (and extinct) species, we are surveying foliar fungal endophyte communities from every habitat on each major island in the Hawaiian archipelago, including at least a single representative of most of the 165 native eudicot genera. Plants from two of Hawaii’s most species-rich adaptive radiations will be intensively sampled to to enable insight into evolutionary aspects of host-symbiont dynamics.

Using fungi isolated via high-throughput culturing techniques, we will produce rigorous multiple-gene phylogenetic hypotheses in order to place new species discovered by culture-independent DNA “barcode” sequencing in an evolutionary context. Hawaii’s micro-fungal diversity is almost entirely undocumented, yet undoubtedly disappearing quickly. Fungi that are obligately associated with Hawaii’s endemic plants are likely to be the most threatened by factors such as invasive species, climate change, loss of pollinators, and habitat encroachment. Forty percent of federally listed threatened and endangered plants are Hawaiian, thus description, isolation and preservation of this unique biota is a timely imperative. Maintaining living cultures of these fungi will ensure they are preserved even in the absence of their host plant species.