The Dipterocarpaceae is the most diverse and abundant tree family in the lowland tropical rain forests of Southeast Asia. There are more than 500 species and all depend on root-associated fungi called ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi to obtain soil nutrients. Ectomycorrhizal fungi have evolved intimate associations with particular groups of trees in forest communities across the world, but they are rare in most lowland tropical regions. However, the extent of ECM fungal diversity is unknown, thereby making tests of important evolutionary and ecological hypotheses difficult. While soil fungi predominantly exist in microscopic form, many fungi make macroscopic fruiting bodies during the sexual stage of their life cycle, enabling taxonomic identifications that can be coupled with molecular data. This project will make use of an existing collection of identified and curated fungi in Malaysia to begin building and DNA database for fungal diversity in dipterocarp forest. This effort will allow environmental samples of soils and roots to be linked to specific species of fungi. Also, fungal fruiting bodies from the dipterocarp forest will continue to be collected, identified, and sequenced at a greater intensity with efforts to identify host tree species of specific fungi.
Broader impacts for this project include the teaching and training of local Malaysian assistants and students. We will also provide an intensive training workshop for foreign and Malaysian researchers in the collection and identification of fungal sporocarps in the field. Digital images of sporocarps will be publicly available online. Since dipterocarps are also highly prized for timber and have experienced some the highest deforestation rates in the world, this research will be useful for implementing strategies for forest conservation and regeneration.