Working in the South Florida Everglades and Florida Bay, Dr. Jack Fell of the University of Miami seeks to: (1) assess the biodiversity of a phylogenetically diverse group of heterotrophic eukaryotes (the yeasts) in a changing and endangered environment, and (2) evaluate the effects of environmental parameters and limiting nutrients (e.g., temperature, salinity, nitrogen, phosphorous and dissolved organic carbon) on yeast community structure. The South Florida ecosystem initiates at Lake Okeechobee with a southward water flow through the Everglades into Florida Bay with an interchange that connects the coral reefs. This interactive system has been managed and mis-managed for over 100 years and is being crowded by development. Concern over the fate of the region has resulted in on-going multi-agency, institutional environmental studies. Dr. Fell's research program concentrates on study of phylogenetically diverse fungi sampled over several transects through the region, and using modern molecular and genomic techniques to characterize the yeasts, in conjunction with ongoing measures of physical and chemical features of the environment. The program will coordinate with two large environmental studies of the region, the Florida International University (FIU) LTER site (Long Term Ecological Research), sponsored by NSF, and NOAA's Florida Bay program.
Yeasts, which are unicellular organisms, represent a phylogenetic diversity of fungi: two phyla, six classes, 29 orders or equivalent lineages, 90 genera and 1000 species. Despite these high numbers, the yeasts are an understudied group of organisms; estimates indicate that possibly only 1% of the yeasts in nature have been discovered. Yeasts have ecological, commercial and medical importance: fungi are primary drivers of the global carbon cycle and their use constitutes one of the world's largest industries. Consequently, species extinction with habitat loss can have considerable economic significance. Estimates indicate that a large number of new species will be discovered in the Everglades system. These new species will be evaluated with existing molecular phylogenetic schemes for incorporation into a revised monograph of all described yeast species, the planned fifth edition of "The Yeasts, A Taxonomic Study". The revision will highlight a revolution in yeast systematics: conversion from phenotypic to molecular phylogeny. Specific attention in this project is directed to electronic availability of data. The monograph is designed for web based access: strain, collection and phenotypic data will be on-line; molecular sequence data will be on GenBank; and ecological data will be available on the FIU LTER web site, which is linked to the NOAA websites. Important strains of yeasts will be available at internationally recognized culture collections (the USDA collection in Peoria, Illinois; Centraalbureau voor Schimmelcultures in the Netherlands; and American Type Culture Collection in Maryland). Training will include undergraduate students and incorporate interactions with agency personnel and resource managers.