Fungal interactions as a driver of evolution and speciation in orchids

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Ida Hartvig


DKK 566,666




Internationalisation Fellowships


This project studies the role of fungal use for evolution and speciation in orchids, one of the world´s largest families of flowering plants. All orchid species are dependent on exploitation of specific fungi for germination and most species remain associated with fungi as adults. The importance of fungi for orchid germination and growth have long been recognized, but only recently have the high throughput sequencing technologies (NGS) made it possible to unravel the full extent of the relationship. This project uses a combination of NGS and field experiments to investigate which role fungal use has had for speciation and diversification in a group of terrestrial orchids, and to test how preferences for fungal use is inherited by studying parent species and their hybrid offspring.


Symbiotic relationships between different species, such as those between orchids and fungi, are ubiquitous and crucial to ecosystem functioning by providing the involved organisms access to otherwise unavailable resources or services. Specialization to specific symbiotic partners can contribute to speciation mechanisms and to maintenance of community diversity through enabling species coexistence, and symbiotic relationships are predicted to be a major factor for diversification and evolution of the involved partners. This project will advance our understanding of the generation and maintenance of biodiversity and the importance of fungal partners for plant evolution and ecology.


The project is hosted at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Maryland, USA, and focus on the widespread orchid genus Platanthera. Data for species-specific fungal use in different Platanthera species is generated from DNA barcoding of roots and early seedlings. Combined with a phylogenomic analysis of Platanthera based on RAD sequencing it will enable exploration of evolutionary patterns of fungal use in the genus and its role for speciation. The inheritance of fungal use preferences is investigated by performing controlled bi-directional crosses of Platanthera species known to form hybrids, and testing the germination rates of seeds of both pure parents and hybrids using a range of cultivated fungi known to associate with Platanthera.

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