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Science and Innovations

Flagstaff Researcher Contributes to Study of World-Traveling Fungi

NAU News

An important type of soil fungi took a Flagstaff researcher by surprise with its ability to migrate around the world.

The study focused on a group of fungi known as Glomeromycota, which forms useful partnerships with plant roots.

The researchers found these fungi all over the world. Almost every type they classified could thrive on more than one continent. That was unexpected, says Nancy Johnson, an ecologist at Northern Arizona University who contributed to the research.  

“The spores of Glomeromycota are kind of like the whales of the fungal world,” Johnson says. “They’re really big. People thought that they didn’t move around that much in the dust.”

Johnson says the spores might be hitching a ride on wind, water or animals to get around the globe. The fungi’s genetic makeup is quite similar everywhere, yet it manages to adapt to widely different ecosystems – from Serengeti grasslands to Arctic tundra.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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