Focus: Fungi and Lichens - Research

Fungi are the second largest kingdom of organisms, with about 100,000 known species and an estimated diversity of more than 1.5 million species. Next to insects, Fungi are the most diverse group on earth and include many economically important species. Much of our daily food is somehow related to fungi, such as bread, cheese, beverages, and many important drugs including penicillin are made from fungi. The mycology division at The Field Museum is one of the largest in the country and covers a wide range of aspects of fungal research, including lichens, from taxonomy and systematics to phylogeny and evolution, to ecology and biogeography, to chemistry, environmental health, and conservation. Field Museum mycologists have research projects all over the globe, from tropical latitudes to the icy Antarctic and from the Americas to Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and Oceania.

The Field Museum’s team of mycologists includes one Associate Curator, Dr. Thorsten Lumbsch, one Assistant Curator, Dr. Sabine Huhndorf, and two Adjunct Curators, Dr. Patrick Leacock, and Dr. Robert Lücking, the latter also being responsible for the museum’s over 200,000 collections of fungi and lichens as Collections Manager. In addition, Postdoctoral Research Scientist Dr. Steven Leavitt, Research Assistants Dr. Carrie Andrew and Susan Hamnik, volunteers Wyatt Gaswick, Immanuel Stern, and Alice Piller, and graduate student Matthew Nelsen, complete the mycology team.

Thorsten Lumbsch
focuses his research on the systematics, taxonomy and evolution of fungi that form mutualistic symbioses with algae or cyanobacteria, commonly known as lichens. The symbiotic organisms usually look very different from the single bionts and form a special lichen morphology. Lichens are the most successful form of symbiosis found in nature in terms of evolutionary diversity and morphological complexity. They can be found in almost all terrestrial ecosystems and some species are aquatic and marine.
Steven Leavitt
collaborates with Thorsten in elucidating the phylogeny of the lichen family Parmeliaceae, with emphasis on species diversity and the genus Xanthoparmelia.
Eimy Rivas Plata
recently defended her PhD thesis with Thorsten on the lichen family Graphidaceae. Thorsten and Sabine Huhndorf also manage and edit the Myconet website.
Sabine Huhndorf
focuses her research on the systematics, biogeography, and floristics of Ascomycetes, especially Pyrenomycetes and Loculoascomycetes. Her primary current research is a multifaceted study of the Lasiosphaeriaceae, a common group of wood inhabiting Ascomycetes. This project is funded through a NSF Partnership for Enhanced Expertise in Taxonomy (PEET) grant. Sabine also is investigating factors influencing the diversity of tropical wood inhabiting Ascomycetes. Matthew Greif collaborates with Sabine in various portions of these projects.
Research Sites
  • Electronic Image Management
  • NSF-PEET Lasiosphaeriaceae
Robert Lücking
studies lichenized fungi, with special emphasis on tropical lichens, crustose microlichens, and leaf-inhabiting lichens. His approaches include alpha-taxonomy and systematics (molecular and phenotype phylogeny), biogeography, ecology, and applications. His focus groups include the largely tropical lichen families Graphidaceae, Trypetheliaceae, Gomphillaceae, and Pilocarpaceae. Current projects include a lichen workshop program in the Neotropics and a global monograph of the lichen family Graphidaceae, in addition to collections improvement and digitizing initiatives. As Collections Manager, Robert manages the fungal collections and the fungal and lichen portion of the departments KE EMu database system. Wyatt Gaswick, Susan Hamnik, Alice Piller, and Immanuel Stern assist Robert in aspects of the curation of fungal and lichen specimens. Matthew Nelsen works with Robert in his PhD thesis project on the lichen family Trypetheliaceae and the evolution of trentepohlioid lichen photobionts, assisted in the lab by Carrie Andrews.
Research Sites
  • TICOLICHEN - The Costa Rican Lichen Biodiversity Inventory
  • Thelotremataceae Website
  • Foliicolous Lichen Homepage
  • AFTOL
  • KE Emu Search Page
  • Costa Rican Fungi and Lichens Search Page
Patrick Leacock
focuses his research on the ecology and conservation of Basidiomycetes and the systematics of the mushroom genus Lactarius. Patrick coordinates the Museum's mycology programs assessing local diversity and the effect of human disturbance on the distribution and diversity of fungi. Wyatt Gaswick and Alice Piller assist Patrick in diverse local fungal inventory programs.
Research Site
  • NAMA Voucher Collection Project