🌐 SPUN Field Update: Atacama, Ghana & Beyond!

Over the last three months, we have been working with local collaborators to sample fungi from the world’s driest desert to the dense, humid rainforests and tropical coastlines of West Africa. Also, we are growing our team at SPUN. See all the new roles listed at the bottom of the newsletter, and consider applying.

The SPUN Team
April 10, 2024
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Over the last three months, we have been working with local collaborators to sample fungi from the world’s driest desert to the dense, humid rainforests and tropical coastlines of West Africa. Also, we are growing our team at SPUN. See all the new roles listed at the bottom of the newsletter, and consider applying.

Field notes

Underground Explorers Program

The first Underground Explorers call of 2024 closed on March 17. Look out for a new cohort to be announced in May.

Atacama Expedition

In December, our team traveled to the Atacama Desert to sample for mycorrhizal fungi. In a partnership with the Council of Atacameño Peoples, we sampled “crop oases” in the world’s driest non-polar desert in hopes of understanding how mycorrhizal fungi help crops survive in this harsh environment. We were joined in the field by our long time collaborators, mycorrhizal ecologist Dr. César Marín and cultural anthropologist Dr. Daniela Soto-Hernandez, as we sampled high-altitude wetlands, martian landscapes, and soils covered by a thick crust of salt.

Read more about our field work on the expedition page.

Photos by Mateo Barrenengoa & Diego Fuentes

Ghana Expedition

The SPUN team has just returned from southern Ghana, where we sampled in locations with some of the highest predicted mycorrhizal biodiversity in the world. The expedition was lead by Dr. Jacob Ulzen from University of Ghana, who was joined in the field by our Chief Scientist Dr. Toby Kiers.

SPUN collected samples from Ghana’s rapidly eroding coastline, and from dense tropical forests and protected areas, where we explored the rainforest canopy and slept in a treehouse. Stay tuned for a full write up on our expedition page.

Ghana Metagenomics Workshop

SPUN, in partnership with JR Biotek Foundation, CSIR - Crops Research Institute, and Oxford Nanopore Technologies co-hosted a five day Metagenomics Training Workshop at the Crops Research Institute in Kumasi, Ghana. Twelve scientists from across Africa came together to learn cutting-edge sequencing techniques and best practices for identifying microbial communities from soil. We are excited for this growing network of researchers to be leading a new frontier in soil and fungal research.

SPUN in the news

Ladera Sur - Mushrooms in the Atacama Desert? In search of the microscopic and unnoticed Fungi Kingdom of the driest desert in the world

“We must stop thinking of the desert as an empty place that only has minerals. It is super important to take care of it, protect its places, and understand the balance of desert ecosystems.”

For the first time ever, fungi graced the cover of National Geographic. In a huge win for fungi, our collaborators at Fungi Foundation were featured in several articles in the issue, and National Geographic Society has changed its definition of “wildlife” to include fungi, declaring mycology as an area of interest for research and supporting it with access to grants worldwide.

National Geographic’s Impact Story Lab also premiered the short film “Flora, Fauna, Funga,” in which National Geographic filmmakers followed Giuliana Furci, Toby Kiers, and Merlin Sheldrake as they wrangled fungi in Tierra del Fuego. Watch the full documentary here.

On our radar

Papers we’re reading

Nature CommunicationsFungal community composition predicts forest carbon storage at a continental scale

This study found fungal composition to be a uniquely informative marker of forest productivity alongside forest type and age. In addition, both fungal community composition and fungal richness are found to be correlated with tree biomass and rates of tree growth.

PNASClimate change–induced stress disrupts ectomycorrhizal interaction networks at the boreal–temperate ecotone

The authors quantified the compositional and functional trait responses of ectomycorrhizal fungal communities, and their interaction networks with host trees, to climate change using a long-term field experiment in Minnesota, USA. They found that warming and rainfall reduction led to an increase in the relative abundance of ectomycorrhizal fungi with contact-short distance exploration types, which likely limits the capacity for mycelial connections between trees.

MycorrhizaEctomycorrhizal fungal communities in natural and urban ecosystems: Quercus humboldtii as a study case in the tropical Andes

Here the authors find that urban ectomycorrhizal trees can host a high number of EMF in their roots, but that urban pollution could be favoring stress tolerant communities that are completely different from rural sites.

Upcoming conferences

11th Annual International Workshop of Edible Mycorrhizal Mushrooms
April 22 - 26, Esquel, Chubut, Argentina

International Conference on Mycorrhiza
August 4 - 9, 2024, Manchester, United Kingdom

International Mycological Congress
IMC August 11 - 15 2024, Maastricht, NL

Field work

Are you interested in participating in fungal research? Many researchers are currently running projects in diverse fields of environmental mycology. Check them out on our Associates Page.

If you’re a mycorrhizal researcher who is interested in becoming a SPUN Associate you can fill out this form to apply.

We’re Hiring

SPUN is hiring six roles. Join our team in one of the following positions by applying on our Careers Page.

  1. Biodiversity Conservation Strategist: Dive into the heart of conservation efforts by joining us as a Biodiversity Conservation Strategist. Your strategic insights and passion for preserving biodiversity will guide our mission forward.
  2. Fungal Conservation Scientist: Explore the fascinating world of mycorrhizal fungi as a Fungal Conservation Scientist. Contribute your scientific expertise to research projects aimed at understanding and conserving these essential organisms.
  3. Geospatial Data Scientist: Harness the power of data and technology as our Geospatial Data Scientist. Utilize your expertise to analyze spatial data and develop innovative solutions for mapping mycorrhizal fungi habitats.
  4. Executive Assistant: Are you organized, detail-oriented, and adept at multitasking? Join us in supporting the executive team, coordinating schedules, and facilitating efficient communication.
  5. Operations & HR Manager: Help streamline our operations and foster a positive work environment as our Operations & HR Manager. From managing resources to overseeing personnel, your expertise will be crucial in ensuring smooth day-to-day operations.
  6. Fundraising & Grants Manager: Are you skilled in cultivating relationships and securing funding? Join our team as a Fundraising & Grants Manager to drive initiatives that sustain our vital research efforts and outreach programs.
  7. Social Media Manager: This freelance position will support SPUN’s communications team. They will manage our social media accounts and draft unique posts weekly, outline a content plan for social, and employ strategies to increase followership and engagement.
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