Nicole Hynson

Nicole joined the Bruns lab in September of 2004. On May 10 2007, Nicole successfully passed her PhD qualifying exam and she received her PhD from UC Berkeley in May of 2010.

Starting in August 2011, Nicole will be an Assistant Professor of Plant Community Ecology at the University of Hawaii Manoa, Botany Department.

Research Interests:
Nicole's current research interests include invasive mycorrhizal fungi, the evolution of mycoheterotrophic plants, the use of stable isotopes as food-web tracers and mycorrhizal ecology.

Specific Research Projects:

Invasive Mycorrhizal Fungi:
Nicole is currently working on two projects involving the role of ectomycorrhizal fungi in tree invasions. The first is identifying the mycorrhizal symbionts of conifers in the Hawaiian Islands. This project is in collaboration with Professor Kathleen Treseder, Professor Brian Perry & Professor Emeritus Don Hemmes. The second is examining the role of ectomycorrhizal fungi in expanding oak woodlands under a changing climate and increased nitrogen pollution. This later work is in collaboration with the Treseder lab and the microbial research group at University of California Irvine.

Evolution of Mycoheterotrophic Plants:
For her Ph.D research Nicole examined the evolution and ecophysiology of mycoheterotrophy within the tribe Pyroleae (Ericaceae). Currently she is working on a book chapter about the ecophysiology of mycoheterotrophic plants for an upcoming Springer textbook on mycoheterotrophy edited by Dr. Vincent Merckx.

Relevant publications:

Published abstracts:

Stable isotopes as food-web tracers:
Nicole is interested in developing new applications of stable isotopes and other source-sink tracers to the study of plants and mycorrhizal fungi. For her Ph.D she focused mainly on the use of stable isotopes to examine mycoheterotrophic food-webs. The physiology of mycoheterotrophic plants remained nearly entirely unexplained until the relatively recent application of stable isotope analyses to plant ecology. The analysis of the natural abundance of carbon (13C:12C) and nitrogen (15N:14N) stable isotopes in plants are powerful tools to infer strategies of resource acquisition and metabolic pathways in plants. The stable isotope signatures of mycoheterotrophic plants seem to best fit an isotope food-chain model where the plants’ stable isotope signatures reflect those of their host fungi, their ultimate nutrient source. Generally, the source of a nutrient is left depleted in the heavy isotope compared to its sink. For instance, previous work has shown that fully mycoheterotrophic plants that associate with ectomycorrhizal fungi are significantly enriched in the heavy isotopes of carbon and nitrogen compared to autotrophic understory plants, and they have carbon and nitrogen isotope signatures similar to, or more enriched than ectomycorrhizal fungi. These findings indicate that ectomycorrhizal mycoheterotrophic plants are receiving both carbon and nitrogen through distinct pathways compared to autotrophic ectomycorrhizal plants.

Relevant publications:
Mycorhizal Ecology:
The mycorrhizal symbiosis is one of the most ubiquitous and widespread on earth, yet there are still many fundamental questions regarding the ecology and physiology of the fungi involved in this symbiosis that remain unanswered. Nicole’s particular interests in mycorrhizal fungal ecology are gaining a better understanding of the physiology of ectomycorrhizal fungi and the geographic and temporal factors which lead to changes along the symbiotic continuum from mutualism to parasitism among plants and their mycorrhizal associates.

Relevant publications: Publications in newletters: Nicole is enthusiastic about teaching and has been a Graduate Student Instructor for three upper division biology courses at Berkeley: the Diversity of Plants and Fungi, California Mushrooms and Plant Physiological Ecology. For more information please consult her CV or contact her directly via e-mail.

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