Plant-fungal interactions and microbiology in contemporary and fossil ecosystems. Plant-microbe interactions are a cornerstone of life on Earth. Plant-microbe interactions span obligate mutualism through parasitism and pathogenicity; they are fundamental to biogeochemical systems, driving carbon and phosphorus cycling, weathering, and soil formation. Untangling the origins of these syndromes and these organisms’ shared evolutionary history remain key questions in botany, mycology, and paleontology alike. 450 million years ago, plant-fungal mutualisms drove early land plant evolution and today root-endemic fungi and bacteria are major ecological drivers in land plant communities. Yet, there is a paucity of fossil evidence from critical portions of the geological record. Our work seeks to resolve some of these gaps, and to understand appropriate modern analogues for fossil plant assemblages and the root-associated fungi that fossilized within their tissues.
Gymnosperm evolution and conifer systematics. Living gymnosperms comprise a small fraction of the total biodiversity of non-flowering seed plants. Having access to anatomical features of fossil plants, such as tissue histology, vascular architecture, and developmental features of ovules and pollination syndromes, dramatically improves our understanding of fossil plant biodiversity. Many of these features are phylogenetically informative but unavailable in typical ‘compression-adpression’ plant fossils. In addition to systematic descriptions of fossil conifers, we are beginning a series of expeditions in search of additional localities in which plants exhibit anatomical-grade preservation, to better contextualize North American ecosystems during the rise of flowering plants. In June-July of 2021 and 2022 we’ll travel to Alaska’s North Slope, and in Sept 2021 we’ll venture to New Mexico in search of fossil plants preserved at a cellular level of detail.