Fossilized fungi

Dr. Ludovic Le Renard, a postdoctoral researcher in the Berbee Lab at the UBC Biodiversity Research Centre, shares his research on fungi evolution through geological time by comparing live fungi with similar-looking fungi fossils.

Hello I'm Ludovic Le Renard. I'm a postdoctoral researcher in Mary Berbee's lab. In my work i study microscopic fungi associated with plant leaves and i try to study their evolution over geological time. I collect living fungi on plants like that one [points to a leaf], either on the leaf litter or on living leaves and i compare them to fossilized fungi that look very much like them. Fungi do indeed fossilize and very often it's along plants, so if you want to find fossil fungi you need to look for plants in the first place. So I'm chasing plants in search of fungi through geological time.

Why do you study biology?

Originally i was not particularly dedicated to biology. I was just always very curious about nature around me. At the end of high school I was neither too much into chemistry, math, or physics, so by default I chose biology and once I reached university I just fell in love with biology. As i was studying biology of all the diversity of living organisms that they presented us, fungi was the most enigmatic to me. It felt like they had been around me all that time and I had not sort of acknowledged them, so I figured that I could study them to acknowledge them for the rest of my life.

What is your favourite research memory?

My favourite research memory is a field trip I took during my PHD dissertation. We went to collect fossils in Northern Vancouver Island. The water taxi, he dropped us on a remote beach and he dropped us at the lowest tide possible so during July, so that we could have access to rocks that were exposed very far in the intertidal. We collected fossils all morning as the tide was sort of coming up, filling crates with rocks and just a few moments before the water taxi came to pick us up there was almost no more beach left. We were just sort of along the forest and we could start hearing like signs of bears, so the taxi really got us at the right time. It was a really wonderful journey for the fossil record of British Columbia which people don't know enough about.

What is your favourite organism?

Because fungi distract me all the time, I gotta find something else to sort of keep connected with things that are moving. One of the things that distract me when fungi are not that noticeable, which is the driest part of the year, are flies. They are everywhere and among them I think I really like Hoverfly the syrphid. They look like bees, or wasps, or all sorts of threatening insects and they are not threatening at all. They are just here to enjoy flower nectar apparently.


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