SPUN Updates
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SPUN Field Update: Indigenous Fungal Knowledge + Corsica + More

The SPUN Team
November 30, 2023
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As COP28 begins, let’s keep the focus on fungi and put belowground biodiversity on center stage. We have exciting updates to share from the last three months, including sampling for fungi under ancient trees, an upcoming desert field research project, and a beautiful short film.

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Field notes

Underground Explorers Program

In September we added 33 new grantees to our Underground Explorers program, bringing the total grants awarded to 55. This latest cohort includes researchers from underexplored regions across the planet, including Alaska, Indonesia, Madagascar, and Brazil. You can read more about their projects here.
A new call for applications will launch in February, 2024.

Don Talí

On Indigenous Peoples Day, we released a short film by Mateo Barrenengoa in collaboration with Fungi Foundation about Don Talí, one of the Mapuche elders who has informed our work in Chile. Don Talí lives in the Araucanía Region, where his family has stewarded fungi for generations.

You can watch it here.


In September, SPUN sampled on Corsica, the “Mountain in the Sea.” The high-altitude forests of Corsica are considered living laboratories for how old growth ecosystems will respond to climate change. The expedition aimed to understand how the oldest trees in the Mediterranean partner with fungi to survive extreme climate stresses. We also generated new datasets from grass and shrub lands across the island.

The expedition was led by Dr. Aurélie Deveau, Dr. Francis Martin, Dr. Nicolas Suberbielle, Dr. Jean-Paul Maurice, Dr. Toby Kiers, and Dr. Merlin Sheldrake in collaboration with INRAE and Conservatoire Botanique National de Corse. Our field research spearheaded an emerging technique called metatranscriptomics that uses the information encoded within fungal RNA to understand the function and activity of fungal genes underground at exact moments in time.

Read more about this expedition in the Atlantic article below.

Photo: Quentin van den Bossche

Photo: Quentin van den Bossche

Photo: Quentin van den Bossche

Joint Genome Institute Project

We are excited to announce a new project, led by Dr. Adriana Corrales and Dr. Bethan Manley, in collaboration with Dr. Francis Martin from INRAE and Dr. Camilo Andres Salazar Clavijo from Universidad del Rosario in Colombia for the Joint Genome Institute.

Mycorrhizal fungi play a crucial role in the ecosystem functions of terrestrial biomes. Genomic, metabarcoding, and biogeochemical datasets have been used to connect fungal species distributions with critical soil ecosystem functions, such as nutrient cycling. However, these data have been largely restricted to the Northern Hemisphere. This project aims to understand the contribution of Ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi to nutrient cycling in tropical and Mediterranean biomes. We expect to generate data on metatranscriptomic sequencing of mycorrhizal communities to identify key metabolic processes and genome sequencing of mycorrhizal species that are representatives from each of these two study biomes.

These data will drive a new, global understanding of ECM fungal dominated ecosystems and the role they play in nutrient cycling and climate stress.

Atacama Desert

In December, SPUN team members Dr. Adriana Corrales, Dr. César Marín and Dr. Daniela Soto-Hernández are leading an expedition together to the Atacama Desert in a collaboration with the environmental unit of the Council of Atacameño Peoples. Desert fungi are incredibly undersampled, and the team hopes to learn which fungi support the Atacameño “crop oases” that have been cultivated for millennia.

Photo: Daniela Soto-Hernández

SPUN in the news

Aeon - When algae met fungi – the hidden story of life’s most successful partnership

Aeon features our explainer video “Mycorrhizal Fungi: The Roots of Life on Land” narrated by Merlin Sheldrake, animated by May Kindred-Boothby, produced in collaboration with Fungi Foundation, and with music by Cosmo Sheldrake.

The Atlantic - The Invisible Force Keeping Carbon in the Ground

“A fungi-hunter is not looking for an object so much as a system, brushing aside a layer of damp leaves to find the gossamer filaments that hold up the world. These multitudes of hairlike fungal threads—individually called hyphae, and collectively, mycelium—are the true body of fungi, shuttling nutrients to and fro across the forest floor.”

The Washington Post - How a few bags of dirt could help make the planet more resilient to climate change

“The Kazakh steppe, which stretches from the north of the Caspian Sea to the Altai Mountains, is one of the largest dry steppes in the world and is predicted to have a wild diversity of mycorrhizal fungi. But as the region becomes increasingly desert-like, many of these fungi may disappear.”

On our radar

Papers we’re reading

Trends in Plant ScienceSymbiotic control of canopy dominance in subtropical and tropical forests
In this paper, the authors propose a novel symbiosis mediated hypothesis to explain the dominance of the Dipterocarpaceae tree family in the tropical and subtropical forest of Asia. This hypothesis called the "virtuous phosphorus acquisition hypothesis" (VPA) proposes that ectomycorrhizal fungi could quickly colonize Dipterocarpaceae seedlings and provide phosphorus acquired directly from organic sources via highly specialized extracellular enzymes while at the same time producing positive feedbacks that could benefit ectomycorrhizal host over arbuscular mycorrhizal plant species.

Nature MicrobiologyA relational framework for microbiome research with Indigenous communities
This paper outlines ethical research practices for the inclusion of Indigenous communities in human microbiome research. We found many parallels with global soil microbiome work in this article (e.g., Indigenous people historically absent from knowledge co-production or benefit, intellectual and material extraction). The author's relationality framework between Indigenous people, researchers, and microbes helps clarify areas where ethical microbiome research can be improved with greater Indigenous research sovereignty.

New Phytologist GlobalAMFungi: a global database of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal occurrences from high-throughput sequencing metabarcoding studies”The authors have produced an open-source compilation of barcode DNA sequence data for AM fungi, comprising almost 8500 samples with their associated geographical locations and metadata. We are thrilled to see the release of this essential resource for studying the global distributions of AM fungi.

Upcoming conferences

Tropical African Fungi Symposium
January 10-12, 2024, Parakou, Benin

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.

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