I am a systematic mycologist. My focus is on the classification, evolution, and characterization of fungi. Fungi are a particularly poorly known group, with only about 5% of species formally described. My focus is in fungal biodiversity, especially of species that are pathogens of insects, and molds that spoil foods. I use molecular and morphological approaches to discover their relationships, devise classification systems, and understand factors that have driven their evolution. I direct the Cornell Plant Pathology Herbarium (CUP), a world-class collection that documents the biodiversity of fungi and plant disease organisms. I teach classes and do public outreach to build a greater understanding of fungi and their roles in our lives.
My research program focuses on the biodiversity and ecology of fungi. I have worked extensively on fungi that are associated with insects, and lately I have expanded my program to work on fungi that spoil foods. I use molecular biology and microscopic methods to investigate fungal relationships. I develop basic knowledge on the biodiversity of fungi, describing new species and genera, and construct resources to aid in their identification. I seek to understand the ecological roles of fungi, which inform ways it which we might either use or avoid them.
Outreach and Extension Focus
I aim to demystify fungi, including molds and mushrooms, and promote public appreciation of their key roles in the environment. I founded the successful Cornell Mushroom Blog to answer public demand for information about fungi, while also involving my students in outreach through writing about science for a general audience.
The Cornell Plant Pathology Herbarium serves science internationally by as a physical store of data on biodiversity, taxonomy, and nomenclature of fungi and other plant pathogens. We hold over 300,000 specimens and over 60,000 historical images of fungi and agriculture. In 2000 we began digitizing specimen records and images, an effort that's been federally funded since 2010. We moved from substandard facilities that were actively damaging to the collections into a newly renovated facility in 2007. We collaborate with other collections to make our data accessible, and loan specimens internationally to qualified scientists in support of fungal science.
I greatly enjoy teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. I like to ignite a spark of wonder, and to connect students' understanding of fungi to what they already know about how the world works. A graduate-level class "Current Topics in Fungal Biology" (2003-2015) promoted critical thinking through analysis of scientific articles on fungi. My undergraduate classes have included "Medical and Veterinary Mycology" (2009-2014), an introduction to "Fungi "(2000-2007; 2011), a field class called "Mushrooms of Field and Forest" (1999-present), and starting in 2015 "Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds." The latter course allows me to reach over 300 students each Spring semester, to help them understand fungi, disease, biotechnology, famine, and how policy affects food security, the environment, and health. My love of teaching also fuels my outreach efforts.
Awards and Honors
- CALS Innovative Teacher Award (2013) CALS