Sequence-based species conversations in Science

The Estonian-Swedish-American mycological axis has spawned a flurry of communiqués in Science, all centered on sequence-based taxon delimitation in fungi. First, in 2014 Leho Tedersoo and colleagues from the University of Tartu (and elsewhere) published a massive global analysis of soil fungi based on metagenomic data, which elicited comments from Chris Schadt (Oak Ridge) and Anna Rosling (Uppsala), who questioned whether the primers used were adequate to detect Archaeorhizomycetes. Next, in 2015 Davison et al., also from Tartu, analyzed the global distribution of AM fungi using 18S sequences, finding a surprisingly low level of endemism on a continental scale, as compared to plant families. Tom Bruns and John Taylor from U. C. Berkeley took issue with the comparison, on the grounds that the 18S-based “Virtual Taxa” cataloged by Davison et al. are not equivalent to plant families (because they are much older). Finally, this year I wrote a brief Perspective on sequence-based species description (I’m for it), which brought forth a comment from Urmas Kõljalg and others from Tartu and R. Henrik Nilsson from Gothenburg (Sweden), who suggested that UNITE makes Linnaean binomials unnecessary.

This series of articles and commentaries demonstrates that metagenomic studies are having profound impacts on fungal ecology with potentially important, but still not fully realized, connections to fungal taxonomy. It also shows that species concepts and recognition criteria are eminently discussable (and that researchers like to see their names in Science).

Diversity of Archaeorhizomycetes including species described from cultures (red) and known only from environmental sequences (blue). From Ref. 7.

Diversity of Archaeorhizomycetes including species described from cultures (red) and known only from environmental sequences (blue). From Ref. 7.

References (chronological):

  1. Tedersoo, L. et al. 2014. Global diversity and geography of soil fungi. Science 346:
  2. Schadt, C.W., and A. Rosling. 2015. Comment on “Global diversity and geography of soil fungi”. Science 348: 1483 (Technical Comment).
  3. Tedersoo, L., M. Bahram, S. Põlme, S. Anslan, T. Riit, U. Kõljalg, R. H. Nilsson, F. Hildebrand, and K. Abarenkov. 2015. Response to Comment on “Global diversity and geography of soil fungi”. Science 349: 936 (Technical Comment).
  4. Davison, J., M. Moora, M. Öpik, A. Adholeya, L. Ainsaar, A. Bâ, S. Burla, A. G. Diedhiou, I. Hiiesalu, T. Jairus, N. C. Johnson, A. Kane, K. Koorem, M. Kochar, C. Ndiaye, M. Pärtel, Ü. Reier, Ü. Saks, R. Singh, M. Vasar, and M. Zobel. 2015. Global assessment of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus diversity reveals very low endemism. Science 349, 970– 973.
  5. Bruns, T.D., and J.W. Taylor. 2016. Comment on “Global assessment of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus diversity reveals very low endemism”. Science 351: 826 (Technical Comment).
  6. Öpik, M., J. Davison, M. Moora, M. Pärtel, and M. Zobel. 2016. Response to Comment on “Global assessment of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus diversity reveals very low endemism”. Science 351: 826 (Technical Comment).
  7. Hibbett, D. 2016. The invisible dimension of fungal diversity. Science 351: 1150-1151 (Perspective).
  8. Kõljalg, U., L. Tedersoo, R. H. Nilsson, and K. Abarenkov. 2016. Digital identifiers for fungal species. Science 352: 1182-1183 (Letter).
  9. Hibbett, D. 2016. Digital identifiers for fungal species—Response. Science 352: 1183 (Letter).

This subject even made it into my local newspaper, the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. It is not everyday that a reporter calls to discuss fungal taxonomy. The illustration behind me in the photo is by S. Neil Fujita.

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 5.20.29 PM

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