PhD: What lurks beneath: unravelling the chemically-guided ecological interactions of Armillaria fungi, a devastating group of subterranean forest pathogens
Location: Bangor University
I completed my BSc in Biological Science at Cardiff University in 2020. During this time, I was an active member of the Cardiff Fungal Ecology research group. At Cardiff, my work involved assisting PhD students investigating endophytic fungal community structure in the functional sapwood of European beech as well as the establishment of heart rot in beech and oak study systems. I was fortunate enough to conduct my placement year at the Bavarian Forest National Park investigating wood decay fungal community structure and assembly processes in response to climate variability and during this time harboured a keen interest in saproxylic biodiversity and multivariate statistics. For my final year research project, I designed and conducted an experiment to investigate the conservation value of veteranisation applied to attached oak branches, a process aimed at replicating veteran tree microhabitats in younger trees. Prior to undertaking and during my BSc, I worked as a practicing climbing and consulting arboriculturist.
I hope that undertaking a PhD will allow me to combine my “boots on the ground (or in the canopy)” arboricultural experience with rigorous scientific practice to advance our understanding of fungal-tree interactions. My project focuses on the chemical ecology of Armillaria species and their interactions with oak trees. Armillaria species employ a range of ecological strategies acting as both pathogens and saprotrophs. My project will utilise chemical and transcriptome analysis to specifically address hypotheses regarding chemotaxis of specialist underground exploratory organs known as rhizomorphs that allow for the dispersal of Armillaria species to new resources.