Seagrass-Associated Fungi

Project Manager: Cassie Ettinger

Cassie is investigating seagrass-associated fungi locally (Bodega Bay, CA), globally and between seagrass species for her dissertation. The goal of her project is to survey the taxonomic and functional diversity of seagrass associated fungi and to determine the evolutionary and ecological importance of these associations.

Fungi can have beneficial effects on terrestrial plant fitness; for example, mycorrhizae are involved in facilitating phosphorus and nitrogen uptake for their hosts. It is estimated that 82- 85% of angiosperm species have mycorrhizal fungal associations. Mycorrhizae are fungi that associate with plant roots and facilitate nutrient uptake. Mycorrhizae were previously thought to not colonize aquatic environments, but have since been found in wetlands, estuaries, mangrove forests and freshwater ecosystems. Mycorrhizal associations are believed to be 400 million years old, critical for plant terrestrialization and the basal state for angiosperms – but are thought to have been lost in seagrass lineages. Investigating the relationship between seagrasses and their associated fungi could be potentially transformative to our understanding of the evolution of land plants.