Video: Rachel Cargill and Loreto Oyarte Galvez

Fungal networks underpin life on earth.

Our group uses nanoprobes and high-resolution imaging to map the nutrient flows and architecture of plant-fungal networks. We study a range of symbiotic systems, with the aim of understanding the formation and breakdown of partnerships in nature.

video credit: Rachel Cargill & Loreto Oyarte Galvez)
We track the flow of carbon (bright dots) inside living networks using florescent probes to understand how fungi calculate where to distribute resources. This information can help us explore the carbon drawdown potential of mycorrhizal fungi under increasing CO2 emissions.
video credit: Loreto Oyarte Galvez)

the Science

Underground networks

Mycorrhizal fungi form partnerships with more than 80% of all plant species on Earth, supplying nutrients to roots in exchange for plant carbon. Our aim is to understand how organisms (without brains) evolve different trading strategies to exchange resources. How does a fungus sense local nutrient conditions, and make complex calculations about when and where to trade? We work with AMOLF, the Amsterdam Biophysics Institute, to develop tools to visual monitor where and when trade takes place across plant-fungal networks.

Mutualism Evolution

We use experimental evolution and phylogenic analysis to identify how mutualisms respond to radical changes in their environment. Our aim is to identify the evolutionary selection pressures that shape symbiont communities and ultimately to identify approaches to conserve mutualisms in the face of environmental change.

Mechanisms stabilizing cooperation

Cooperate or defect? We use theory and empirical work to identify factors, such as punishment and reciprocal trade, that help stabilize cooperation among species. Model systems include plant-microbe mutualisms (Global), pollination mutualisms (Japan), and ant-plant mutualisms (Kenya).

Agricultural development

We are interested in the accessibility and conservation of plant and microbial genetic resources, and strategies to promote innovation with fungi in farming systems. We ask how can evolutionary theory be applied to agricultural systems using a ‘Darwinian Agriculture’ framework.