Staff Profile

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Matthew Nelsen

Research Scientist

Negaunee Integrative Research Center
Evolutionary Biology

Matt's research began in botany, ecology and environmental science and has more recently gravitated towards: (i) the evolution of symbiotic associations; and (ii) the evolution of eukaryotic microbes (fungi and algae), and the roles they have played in shaping terrestrial ecosystems and nutrient-cycling during the Neoproterozoic-Phanerozoic. Both avenues of his research attempt to link diverse fields and organismal groups. His current postdoctoral work addresses the timing and evolutionary consequences of ant-plant interactions. For more information, please see:

Additional Information


Ph.D. University of Chicago. Committee on Evolutionary Biology. Thesis: The origins and diversification of lichen symbioses.

M.S. University of Wisconin-Madison. Botany. Thesis: Symbiont-switching, species concepts and systematics in the lichen genera Thamnolia and Lepraria.

B.S. University of Wisconsin-Madison. Double-major in Botany and Biological Aspects of Conservation. Thesis: Lichens as bioindicators of air quality in Madison, WI.


Selected publications (for full list, please see:

Nelsen, M.P., DiMichele, W.A., Peters, S.E. and Boyce, C.K. 2016. Delayed fungal evolution did not cause the Paleozoic peak in coal production. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 113: 2442-2447.

Sanders, W.B., Pérez-Ortega, S., Nelsen, M.P., Lücking, R. and de los Ríos, A. 2016. Heveochlorella (Trebouxiophyceae): A little-known genus of unicellular green algae outside the Trebouxiales emerges as a major clade of photobionts in foliicolous lichen communities. Journal of Phycology 52: 840-853. 

Will-Wolf, S., Makholm, M.M., Nelsen, M.P., Trest, M.T., Reis, A.H. and Jovan, S. 2015. Element analysis of two common macrolichens supports bioindication of air pollution and lichen response in rural midwestern U.S.A. Bryologist 118: 371-384.

Leavitt, S.D., Kraichak, E., Nelsen, M.P., Altermann, S., Divakar, P.K., Alors, D., Esslinger, T.L., Crespo, A. and Lumbsch, H.T. 2015. Fungal specificity and selectivity for algae play a major role in determining lichen partnerships across ecogeographic regions in the lichen-forming family Parmeliaceae. Molecular Ecology. 24: 3779-3797.

Kraichak, E., Divakar, P.K., Crespo, A., Leavitt. S.D., Nelsen, M.P., Lücking, R. and Lumbsch, H.T. 2015. A tale of two hyper-diversities: diversification dynamics of the two largest families of lichenized fungi. Scientific Reports 5: 10028.

Dal Grande, F., Beck, A., Cornejo, C., Singh, G., Cheenacharoen, S., Nelsen, M.P. and Scheidegger, C. 2014. Molecular phylogeny and symbiotic selectivity of the green algal genus Dictyochloropsis s.l. (Trebouxiophyceae): a polyphyletic and widespread group forming photobiont-mediated guilds in the lichen family Lobariaceae. New Phytologist 202: 455-470.

Thüs, H., Muggia, L., Pérez-Ortega, S., Favero-Longo, S.E., Joneson, S., O’Brien, H., Nelsen, M.P., Duque-Thüs, R., Grube, M., Friedl, T., Brodie, J., Andrew, C.J., Lücking, R., Lutzoni, F. and Gueidan, C. 2011. Revisiting photobiont diversity in the lichen family Verrucariaceae (Ascomycota). European Journal of Phycology 46: 399-415.

Nelsen, M.P., Rivas Plata, E., Andrew, C.J., Lücking, R. and Lumbsch, H.T. 2011. Phylogenetic diversity of trentepohlialean algae associated with lichen-forming fungi. Journal of Phycology 47: 282-290.

Will-Wolf, S., Nelsen, M.P. and Trest, M.T. 2010. Responses of small foliose lichen species to landscape pattern, light regime, and air pollution from a long-term study in upper Midwest USA. Bibliotheca Lichenologica 105: 167-182.

Nelsen, M.P., Lücking, R., Grube, M., Mbatchou, J.S., Muggia, L., Rivas Plata, E. and Lumbsch, H.T. 2009. Unravelling the phylogenetic relationships of lichenised fungi in Dothideomyceta. Studies in Mycology 64: 135-144.

Cseke, L.J., Tsai, C.-J., Rogers, A., Nelsen, M.P., White, H.L., Karnosky, D.F. and Podila, G.K. 2009. Transcriptomic comparison in the leaves of two aspen genotypes having similar carbon assimilation rates but different partitioning patterns under elevated [CO2]. New Phytologist 182: 891-911.

Nelsen, M.P. and Gargas, A. 2009. Symbiont flexibility in the lichen Thamnolia vermicularis (Pertusariales: Icmadophilaceae). Bryologist 102: 404-417.

Will-Wolf, S. and Nelsen, M.P. 2008. How have Wisconsin’s lichen communities changed? Pp. 135-150 in: Waller, D.M. and Rooney, T.P. (Eds.), The vanishing present: Ecological change in Wisconsin. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA.

Nelsen, M.P. and Gargas, A. 2008. Dissociation and horizontal transmission of co-dispersing lichen symbionts in the genus Lepraria (Lecanorales: Stereocaulaceae). New Phytologist 177: 264-275.

Nelsen, M.P., Will-Wolf, S. and Gargas, A. 2007. One-hundred years of change in the corticolous macrolichens of Madison, Wisconsin. Evansia 24: 108-112.

Nelsen, M.P., Lücking, R., Umaña, L., Trest, M.T., Will-Wolf, S., Chaves, J.L., and Gargas, A. 2007. Multiclavula ichthyiformis (Fungi: Basidiomycota: Cantharellales: Clavulinaceae), a remarkable new basidiolichen from Costa Rica. American Journal of Botany 94: 1289- 1296.