Biosystematics of Saprotrophic Fungi

Research Issue

Scientist uses chainsaw while collecting samples for decay analysis in Alaska.

Breaking down wood is one of the most important roles of fungi in forests. By affecting rates and types of wood decay, saprotrophic fungi help determine how much carbon is stored in the soil and how much is released as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. White rot fungi degrade wood lignin, cellulose, and hemicellulose, recycling nutrients back into the soil while releasing water and carbon dioxide. Brown rot fungi are unable to break down lignin so lignin residue is slowly converted to humus, trapping carbon and adding organic matter to the soil surface.

Our work on saprotrophic fungi includes biosystematics (collecting, describing, identifying, classifying and naming fungal species) and phylogenetic analysis (figuring out the evolutionary history of species). These disciplines provide the foundation for almost all work with forest fungi, including invasive species research, understanding changes in forests caused by climate change, and assessing forest health.

Our Research

Center for Forest Mycology Research (CFMR) researchers are clarifying genetic relationships and developing identification tools for many different saprotrophic fungi. We are working on:

  • Fomitopsis pinicola, a brown rot fungus that breaks down coarse woody debris, especially in conifer forests of the western and northeastern U.S. and Europe. What was once thought to be a single species is now understood to be at least four distinct species.
  • Laetiporus species, known informally as “Chicken of the Woods.” These brown rot fungi that were once grouped under the single species Laetiporus sulphureus.
  • Agaricus species, decomposer fungi that are widely distributed over boreal, temperate and tropical regions. The genus includes more than 400 species, including edible species such as Agaricus bisporus, the most commonly grown and eaten mushroom in the United States.
  • Various genera in the Russulales and Polyporales, large orders that includes many common, white-rot crust fungi.
  • Mycenoid and marasmioid fungi, including leaf and woody litter decay mushrooms and pathogens that kill tree branches and shoots.
  • Other fungi that control nutrient availability for trees.

Expected Outcomes

We will produce identification keys, photographs and species descriptions for mycologists, plant pathologists, forest managers, mushroom clubs and others who are interested in identifying forest fungi. We make DNA sequences based on vouchered fungal cultures available to the research community through online databases like GenBank.

Cultures from the CFMR collection will be included in the Thousand Fungal Genomes Project, an international effort to obtain whole-genome characterization of keystone fungal species. This will result in a better understanding of the evolution, genetics and physiology of fungi. Practical applications include the development of better wood preservatives, anti-fungal compounds in medicine, new industrial uses for fungi (bioremediation, fermentation, biopesticides), and an improved understanding of how different saprotrophic fungi effect soil fertility and forest productivity.

Research Products

Dai, Li-Dan; Wu, Sheng-Hua; Nakasone, Karen K.; Burdsall, Harold H.; He, Shuang-Hui 2017. Two new species of Aleurodiscus s.l. (Russulales, Basidiomycota) on bamboo from tropics. Mycoscience. 58(3): 213-220.

Justo, Alfredo; Miettinen, Otto; Floudas, Dimitrios; Ortiz-Santana, Beatriz; Sjökvist, Elisabet; Lindner, Daniel; Nakasone, Karen; Niemelä, Tuomo; Larsson, Karl-Henrik; Ryvarden, Leif; Hibbett, David S. 2017. A revised family-level classification of the Polyporales (Basidiomycota). Fungal Biology. 121(9): 798-824.

Nakasone, Karen K.; Draeger, Kymberly R.; Ortiz-Santana, Beatriz 2017. A Contribution to the Taxonomy of Rhizochaete (Polyporales, Basidiomycota). Cryptogamie, Mycologie. 38(1): 81-99.

Haight, John; Laursen, Gary A.; Glaeser, Jessie A.; Taylor, D. Lee. 2016. Phylogeny of Fomitopsis pinicola: A species complex. Mycologia. 108: 925-938.

Lodge, D. Jean. 2016. Common wood decay fungi found in the Caribbean Basin. In: McCown, Colin, ed. Proceedings of the 112th annual meeting of the American Wood Protection Association; 2016 May 1-3; San Juan, PR. Birmingham, AL: American Wood Protection Association. 112: 22-25.

Lodge, D. Jean; Winter, Dirk; González, Grizelle; Clum, Naomi. 2016. Effects of hurricane-felled tree trunks on soil carbon, nitrogen, microbial biomass, and root length in a wet tropical forest. Forests. 7, 264; doi:10.3390/f7110264

Yang, J.; Nakasone, K.K.; He, S.H. 2016. Veluticeps fasciculata sp. nov. (Gloeophyllaceae, Basidiomycota), a close relative to V. berkeleyi. Phytotaxa 243(2): 163-169;

Zalamea, M.; González, G.; Lodge, D.J.  2016. Physical, chemical and biological properties of soil under decaying wood in a tropical wet forest in Puerto Rico. Forests 2016, 7, 168; doi:10.3390/f7080168

Zalamea, Marcela; Gonzalez, Grizelle; Lodge, Deborah. 2016. Physical, Chemical, and Biological Properties of Soil under Decaying Wood in a Tropical Wet Forest in Puerto Rico. Forests. 7(8): 168.

Zhou, L.-W.; Nakasone, K. K.; Burdsall, Jr., H. H.; Ginns, J.; Vlasák, J.; Miettinen, O.; Spirin, V.; Niemelä, T.; Yuan, H.-S.; He, S.-H.; Cui, B.-K.; Xing, J.-H.; Dai, Y.-C. 2016. Polypore diversity in North America with an annotated checklist. Mycological Progress 15: 771-790; doi:10.1007/s11557-016-1207-7

Nakasone, K. K. 2015. Taxonomic studies in Chrysoderma, Corneromyces, Dendrophysellum, Hyphoradulum, and Mycobonia. Mycotaxon 130(2): 369-397; doi:10.5248/130.369

Lodge, D. Jean; Cantrell, Sharon A.; Gonzalez, Grizelle. 2014. Effects of canopy opening and debris deposition on fungal connectivity, phosphorus movement between litter cohorts and mass loss. Forest Ecology and Management. 332: 11-21.

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • Jessie Glaeser, US Forest Service Northern Research Station, Research Plant Pathologist
  • Daniel Lindner, US Forest Service Northern Research Station, Research Plant Pathologist
  • Beatriz Ortiz-Santana, US Forest Service Northern Research Station, Research Botanist
  • D. Jean Lodge, US Forest Service Northern Research Station, Research Botanist (retired)
  • Karen Nakasone, , US Forest Service Northern Research Station, Research Botanist (retired)

Research Partners


  • Last modified: May 6, 2019