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Flagstaff Researcher Contributes To Study Of World-Traveling Fungi

Nancy Johnson
(Photo courtesy of NAU News)
Nancy Johnson in the Serengeti.

An important type of soil fungi took a Flagstaff researcher by surprise with its ability to migrate around the globe.

The study focused on a group of fungi known as Glomeromycota, which forms useful partnerships with plant roots.

The researchers found these fungi all over the world. Almost every type they classified could thrive on more than one continent. That was unexpected, said Nancy Johnson, an ecologist at Northern Arizona University who contributed to the research. 

“The spores of Glomeromycota are kind of like the whales of the fungal world,” Johnson said. “They’re really big. People thought that they didn’t move around that much in the dust.”

Johnson said the spores might be hitching a ride on wind, water or animals to get around the planet. The fungi’s genetic makeup is quite similar everywhere, yet it manages to adapt to widely different ecosystems — from Serengeti grasslands to Arctic tundra. 

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Melissa grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Arizona and an M.FA. in Creative Writing and Environment from Iowa State University.