Cord-forming fungi in British woodlands

posted on July 9, 2013

Sylva scholar Kirsty Monk, has co-authored a paper published in the Royal Forestry Society‘s journal this month. It describes the role and importance of the lesser known group of ecosystem engineers in British woodlands; cord-forming fungi. With fellow author Gabriel Hemery, they examine the extent of our fungal knowledge and discuss their implications for forestry in the future.

Cord-forming fungi in British woodlands: what they are and what they do

Cord-forming fungi in British woodlands: what they are and what they do

The authors end with a salient and practical point for all woodland owners:

“The time has come to consider all components of woodland ecosystems when managing for timber or woodland products. Future improvements to timber yields and woodland health will lie in improving nutrient cycling and woodland resilience, especially in the light of projected environmental change and the uncertainly it presents to woodland owners and managers.”

Monk, K. and Hemery, G. (2013). Cord-forming fungi in British woodlands: what they are and what they do. Quarterly Journal of Forestry, 107, 3, 197-202.

The article is freely available to download from the Forestry Horizons library, with kind permission of the Royal Forestry Society.


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Help us secure the Sylva scholarship

posted on March 29, 2013
Read more about our Sylva Scholarship campaign

Read more about our Sylva Scholarship campaign

Sylva supports cutting-edge forest science in a partnership with the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford by offering a scholarship to DPhil students. We are seeking donors to help us secure our next scholar and, additionally, to help us raise an endowment fund to secure the scholarship in perpetuity.

Our first scholar Kirsty Monk is due to complete her research later this year, investigating the role of cord-forming fungi in woodland (read more). Meanwhile, an excellent candidate has been identified to follow in Kirty’s footsteps in Autumn 2013, having a double 1st undergraduate degree from Oxford and a MSc from the University of East Anglia. The proposed research programme will focus on the ecosystem consequences of ash dieback (Chalara fraxinea) in British woodlands.

To secure our next scholar we need to add to our current funds by raising an additional £5,000 for each of the next three years. At the same time the University of Oxford is keen to support the creation of more fully-endowed scholarships. They offer currently a 40 percent match-fund with a view to securing a total fund of £500,000 that will secure a scholarship in perpetuity. This is an unrivaled opportunity to leave a lasting legacy. If you are interested in learning more about the scholarship programme and how you could support it, please contact our Chief Executive Dr Gabriel Hemery or visit our online fundraising page with the Big Give.

The theme of the scholarship is healthy trees and productive forests. This reflects a joint vision between the Sylva Foundation and University of Oxford Department of Plant Sciences to foster a robust tree and forest resource in the light of projected environmental change.   Read more about the Sylva Scholarship

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New approaches to old problems

posted on October 15, 2012

Our Sylva Scholar Kirsty Monk, provides a run down of a busy conference season in the ecological world.

This year is no exception, over the last fortnight I have attended three conferences, all totally different in context but sharing the common themes of using new methods to tackle old problems.

The Biodiversity Symposium in Oxford, highlighted the potential of new technologies, such as bioaccoustic recognition (being able to tell species apart from their song, using computers) and telemetry (electronic tracking), for enhancing scientific investigations. The programme included talks from the Sylva Foundation and myself about myForest and FungiWatch respectively and, to my delight, had a whole session devoted to citizen science.

Next came the Oxford Green Schools Conference where I, in collaboration with my partner school St Ebbes’, presented the results of our Royal Society project to other teachers from Oxford and received a great response.

One week later came a joint BES/SEB/BS conference devoted to interactions between above and belowground interactions. This was fascinating and highlighted just how complex life on earth really is, discussing everything from hormones, through aphids, to tropical forest carbon cycling.

All of these were great events and I cannot wait to put everything I have learned into practice!

Kirsty Monk, Sylva Scholar

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Fungal cord fieldwork

posted on April 30, 2012

Dr Gabriel Hemery donned his full waterproofs earlier this week to get stuck in to some fungal fieldwork with Sylva Scholar Kirsty Monk in Wytham woods. This was part of an experiment to study the distributions of cord-forming fungi at 20m and 2.5m scales. Results of this experiment will help uncover some of the factors responsible for determining which fungi are found where, and whether at small scales, woodlands tend to be dominated by one species or not. However, the fieldwork is only the tip of the iceberg as now the 100+ samples will be taken back to the lab to be cleaned and processed to find out, from their DNA, what species they are.

Sylva Scholar Kirsty Monk conducting fieldwork mapping fungal cords

Sylva Scholar Kirsty Monk conducting fieldwork mapping fungal cords at Wytham Woods. Here the white thread of a cord-forming fungi is being tracked and samples taken for later DNA analysis.


Read more posts about Kirsty Monk’s work

Category: Sylva Scholar

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Sylva Scholar and the Royal Society project – March

posted on March 15, 2012

Our Sylva Scholar Kirsty Monk, who is running a science project with a primary school in Oxford funded by a Royal Society grant (read more), reports on recent progress.

This week has been one of transition for the Royal Society project, seeing the culmination of the pilot class’ investigations and the start of the project proper.

Class A dramatically improved in terms of scientific thinking and writing, as shown in their posters (to be exhibited in a show at the end of the academic year), tackling questions such as:

  • What species live in a stream with high currents; how does this compare to the species living in low currents?
  • What causes currents?
  • How many species are there in the stream at Hogacre?
Royal Society project work March 12

Children from St Ebbe's primary school working in the Royal Society project with Sylva Scholar Kirsty Monk

The results were surprising to the students and often hypotheses were disproved, teaching students that they don’t have to know the answer before beginning an experiment. I look forward to showing off their wares in June/July.

We also started off Class B, with getting to know both the area and the project. Luckily we had fantastic weather for this and it seems as though this class is set to be as enthusiastic as the last.

Kirsty Monk

Category: Sylva Scholar

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Sylva Scholar wins prestigious grant for school project

posted on February 9, 2012

Kirsty Monk, our Sylva Scholar, has joined forces with a local school to bring science to life for the children, and in return they will help Kirsty in her studies.

Kirsty, in collaboration with Mrs Geerthi  Ahilan, Science co-ordinator at St Ebbe’s C.E. (Aided) Primary School have won a Royal Society Partnership Grant, worth £2896 for their study, “War and Peace: Species interactions on Hogacre Common”.

The project involves the whole school and aims to assess the biodiversity found in different habitats on Hogacre common, an 11 acre area of old sports field leased to the community by Corpus Christi College. The school hopes to convert this area into a rich and diverse community resource involving the children in all stages from planning through experimentation to presenting the results.  This will be an invaluable project to both the schools and the local community who will benefit from a greater understanding of the biodiversity of the common and the enhancement resulting from the restoration and conservation aspects of the project.

Read more about our Sylva Scholar

Category: Sylva Scholar

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Sylva Scholar attends ICF conference

posted on April 15, 2011

For the last two days I have been at the Institute of Chartered Foresters’ (ICF) conference, “Trees and the Urban Environment” this was a fantastic event and a good opportunity to meet some of the movers and shakers in urban forestry. The opening speech, given by Pam Warhurst of the Forestry Commission, was truly inspirational, a call to arms for all foresters to come together and make the most of the public passion for trees.

There were some excellent seminars including a heated and passionate debate over the use of non-native trees in urban areas or as street trees, and a fabulous closing address by Peter Head of Arup, discussing the future of the urban environment in terms of renewable energies and greening buildings.  All in all this was a very good conference and the proceedings should make a fascinating read!

I would like to thank Barcham Tree Specialists for the scholarship that enabled me to attend.

Kirsty Monk

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First data for Sylva Scholar

posted on April 8, 2011
Sylva Scholar Kirsty Monk studying a log sample

Sylva Scholar Kirsty Monk studying a log sample

Two months after the start of the logs experiment, I have begun collecting the first samples. I have been in the field revisiting all 170 logs across two woodland sites, collecting a sample of every fungus found on each log for molecular analysis.

This data will be used for statistical analysis to identify differences in fungal colonisation and diversity on wood from different tree species and under different forest stand types.

Initial analysis of the data will begin within the next few weeks and will feed into many other experiments over the course of the scholarship project.

Kirsty Monk

Read more about the Sylva Scholarship project

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Scholarship research begins in earnest

posted on January 28, 2011
The first of 32 sample plots studying the effect of tree type and wood type on decomposer communities

The first of 32 sample plots studying the effect of tree type and wood type on decomposer communities

The first research plots have been established in Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire by our Sylva Scholar, Kirsty Monk.  This marks the start of a two and a half year project studying the effects of climate change, invasive events and woodland management strategies on the fungal communities therein.

Kirsty has placed split logs in 32 sample plots in the woodland.  These will be monitored at two-monthly intervals to study the  preferences of fungi for different tree species, fungi growth patterns and differences in the rate of decomposition of different wood types.

This is the first of many experiments taking place in the research project to tackle these questions, and news of these will be added as they get underway.

Read more about the Sylva Scholarship research project

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Sylva Scholarship launched

posted on October 11, 2010
Plant Sciences

The Sylva Scholarship was launched in October 2010 in a partnership between the Sylva Foundation and the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford. The theme of the Sylva Scholarship is

healthy trees and productive forests.

This reflects a joint vision between the Sylva Foundation and the Department of Plant Sciences to manage forest resources based on a fundamental understanding of forest ecosystems.

The  Sylva Scholarship programme will be administered by the Department of Plant Sciences, with the expectation that there will be a rolling programme of research students in the coming years.  The first Sylva Scholar, Oxford Graduate Kirsty Monk, is undertaking a study to investigate the possible impacts of forest management on woodland ecosystems.

Kirsty’s project is entitled ‘The consequences of management and climate change for ecosystem function: a case study of cord-forming fungi in English woodlands’.  The study will examine whether changes to the management regime and species composition of broadleaved woodlands are likely to have a significant impact on ecosystem function.  Impact will be monitored by examining the effects on an important group of ‘ecosystem engineers’ – the cord-forming fungi.  The research is supported by scientists from the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford, and from the Natural History Museum, London.

Sylva Foundation CEO, Dr Gabriel Hemery, said “This is an important initiative under our Science programme, promoting sustainable forest management through research and communication.  Our support of a research studentship at one of the world’s leading departments of plant sciences enables us to tackle head on some of the most significant threats facing Britain’s trees and forests in the future, while realising opportunities too.”  He added “This particular research project will hopefully be the first of many and we are delighted to be supporting Kirsty in her work towards achieving a DPhil at the university.”

Professor Liam Dolan, Director of Graduate Studies in the Oxford Plant Sciences Department explained “We are fortunate in the UK in that our forests are currently valued as much for their biodiversity, carbon storage and environmental services as they are for their capacity to produce useable wood. However, the growing emphasis on reducing carbon emissions through increased use of locally produced timber and biofuel will provide a powerful incentive to make these woods more productive. It is therefore important that the effects that management for production will have on biodiversity and other environmental services are fully understood.”

Dr David Bass, from the Natural History Museum in London, added “the application of molecular biology to study the biodiversity and ecology of organisms that cannot be distinguished by their morphology alone – such as cord-forming fungi – is a rapidly developing field. The Sylva Scholarship will contribute greatly to training Kirsty in these techniques, which are fundamental skills for a modern biologist and are widely transferable to other areas of research. Her project will exploit an exciting synergy between molecular biology and forest ecology, which will throw new light on the ecology of wood decomposition – a key ecosystem service in woodlands and forests.”

Read more on our Forestry Horizons website

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