Fascinated by the diversity of plants and interactions in complex ecosystems, I entered the field of systematic botany and mycology in the early stages of my studies. The integrative approach to the phylogenetics of basidiomycetes and smut fungi was very promising from the beginning. Because morphological data from sori, teliospores, and basidia were not in congruence with ultrastructural data of septal pores and cellular interaction types, we introduced ribosomal gene sequences as another independent character, which proved to be more reliable. Consequently, a new system of smut fungi was developed under my decisive participation. The outcomes of our molecular phylogenetic analyses of smut fungi could be summarized as follows:
a) There are many conflicts between the molecular and morphological based systematics of smuts. Thus, the interpretation of many morphological and functional traits has to be revised. Now, we are analysing functional traits and the host pathogen interaction much more detailed to get a better understanding of the evolutionary innovations in different smut lineages.
b) The smut fungi are paraphyletic; the striking similarity of their life cycles has therefore evolved at least twice independently. Accordingly, interpretations of how plant parasitism has evolved in the basidiomycetes have to be seen in a completely new light. Now, we are comparing two fungal groups with a similar ecology and different phylogeny. This should help us to get a better understanding of the interaction and the role in evolution.
c) The new system based on monophyletic taxa exhibits many more host correlations than have been observed and discussed so far. Therefore, detailed studies on coevolution are necessary in order to understand the joint evolution of smuts and hosts. Now we are analysing the interaction in a very close relationship and try to combine phylogenetic methods with infection studies to support our hypotheses of cospeciation and host jumps.
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Poll C, Brune T, Begerow D, Kandeler E (2010) Small-scale diversity and succession of fungi in the detritusphere of rye residues. Microbial Ecology 59: 130-140
Begerow D (2008) Koevolution – Zur Bedeutung organismischer Interaktion für die Evolution. n Betz & Köhler (Hrsg.) Die Evolution des Lebendigen. Attempto Verlag: 173-186
Hibbett D et al. (2007) A higher-level phylogenetic classification of the Fungi. Mycological Research 111: 509-547
Begerow D, Stoll M, Bauer R (2006) A phylogenetic hypothesis of Ustilaginomycotina based on multiple gene analyses and morphological data. Mycologia 98: 906-916