Dr. Korena Mafune

Dr. Korena Mafune grew up outside of Seattle, WA, and is currently a postdoctoral researcher.

Tell us about your project!

My research focuses on elucidating the role of adventitious roots and their fungal partners in canopy soils of old-growth Acer macrophyllum (big leaf maple). In these temperate rainforests, canopy soils form from epiphytic mats on branches decomposing over time. Some dominant tree species have adapted to develop adventitious rooting systems in these arboreal soils. They are prevalent in old-growth forests throughout the Olympic Peninsula, where stands have been recorded to accumulate 200,000 m3/ha of canopy soil volume. These unique forests are experiencing more seasonal extremes, such as wetter winters and drier summers, and are known for their temporal stability. I am specifically interested in exploring if fungi associating with adventitious rooting systems in canopy soils are acting as adaptive facilitators to environmental change.

The research field of canopy soil is relatively young, so it is very important to lay the building blocks for understanding these complex ecosystems. My specific research aims to identify fungi associating with adventitious and forest floor rooting systems of the same host trees, identify if root fungal communities are unique to the respective soil habitat, and if they shift throughout the experimental drought manipulations. I will also be exploring phosphorus and nitrogen nutrient fluxes, while gathering soil microclimatic data throughout the experimental manipulation. We have also been working to create a protocol that will allow fungal community analysis using the MinIon Nanopore Sequencer. We have successfully run the MinIon, and are currently analyzing the barcoded library and troubleshooting to create an even stronger protocol that will increase accuracy.

What is your favorite fungus and why?

How can there be just one?!? I love Cantharellus subalbidus, because when the goldens are shy, they always greet me with a plentiful forage. I also love the appearance of Boletus (Xerocomellus) xelleri, and I always get a kick out of having my students feel the consistency of Dacrymyces.

Which awards would you like to brag about?

Most of my research is funded by the Daniel E. Stuntz Memorial Foundation and the Ben Hall Conservation Genetics Award. I also recently received MSA’s Forest Fungal Ecology Award (thanks MSA!!). I am also thankful for supplementary support from various local mycological societies, such as Puget Sound Mycological Society (Ben Woo Scholarship), Oregon Mycological Society, and Sonoma Mycological Society.

What are your career goals/plans for after you’re done with your current position?

I am particularly stubborn because I really want to continue researching these specific canopy soil ecosystems. We are currently expanding the breadth of my current PhD project and are hoping to secure post-doc funding. Ideally, the end goal is to secure a research scientist or professor position somewhere in the PNW region and continue to promote the fields of canopy soil and fungal ecology.

What is your favorite fact/thing about fungi?

The parallel evolution of land plants and symbiotic fungi, and the fact that certain host trees have adapted to have fungal-root relations in canopy soils. Would plants have evolved to be so complex without fungi?! Would we even be here without them?! I also love that a majority of all land plants are holding hands with their best friends (mycorrhizae). Fungi rule the world!!

Who is your mycology role model?

I have met so many enthusiastic mycologists over the last several years. Joe Ammirati has really helped me. I came into this project from an ecological background. His input has allowed me to step back and better comprehend the extreme complexity of plant-fungal evolution.

Any great stories from field work?

One time when I was leading an introductory fungal field trip, I instructed the students to go forage for some mushrooms to ID. An overly enthusiastic student grabbed a disguised fuzzy piece of dog poop before I had the chance to give the warning. When I said, ‘Oh no, drop it’, the student said ‘like it’s hot?’. We all had a good laughed.

What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

I train martial arts/boxing about 5-6 days a week, which takes up most of my free time. Other than that, I love spending time with my family and fur babies (a husky and two kitties), swimming in my favorite Washington waterholes, and foraging during the right seasons. I also love food, whether it is cooking it, eating it, or both.

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