PEET: A monographic study of Cordyceps and related fungi

Taxonomy: Cordyceps, Cordycipitaceae, Hypocreales, Hypocreomycetidae, Sordariomycetes, Pezizomycotina, Ascomycota, Dikarya, Fungi.

Cordyceps and related fungi include over 500 species that are pathogens of arthropods and other fungi. Many species of Cordyceps are pathogens of insects pests and are promising candidates for biological control, which is an active area of research that may lessen our dependence on – and environmental impact of – synthetic pesticides. In addition, many species of Cordyceps and related fungi produce numerous biologically active compounds that function in pathogenicity. Some of these compounds have been exploited for use in medicine (e.g., Cyclosporin A from Tolypocladium inflatum), but countless others await discovery. An accurate understanding of the taxonomy and evolutionary relationships of these fungi will provide a predictive framework in which more focused and directed research in other fields of biology (e.g., biological control, drug discovery, etc.) can proceed.

The overarching goal of this research is to provide a more accurate basis for recognizing and delineating species through the production of a modern monograph. As such, this research involves extensive field collecting of specimens, which will improve our knowledge of species distributions and biogeographic patterns. Cordyceps is particularly abundant in East Asia and eastern North America, thus this project includes collaborations among scientists in China, Japan, Korea, United States and Thailand. Current taxonomic and phylogenetic hypotheses, which are mostly based on traditional interpretations of morphology and ecology, are being tested and refined through phylogenetic analyses of molecular and morphological data.

This research is part of the National Science Foundation "Partnerships to Enhance Expertise in Taxonomy" (PEET) program, which is dedicated to training the next generation of taxonomists. As a PEET project we are training students and postdoctoral research associates in taxonomy of fungi, an understudied group of organisms for which additional expertise and researchers are needed. This research is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DEB-0529752. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.