Comparative Fungal Biology

We study the diversity, evolution and ecology of fungi using taxonomy, systematics and molecular approaches.

Xerocomellus pruinatus under microscope

Team lead: Dr Ester Gaya

All life depends on plants and all plants depend on fungi. With their multiple ecological roles as decomposers, symbionts or pathogens, fungi are fundamental to life on Earth. Yet knowledge of fungal biology lags far behind that of plants.  

Kew has a strong track record in fungal diversity research and is home to the largest fungarium in the world, holding over 1.25 million fungal specimens. The Comparative Fungal Biology team combines fundamental taxonomic expertise with molecular approaches and ecological perspectives. Our research ranges from baseline diversity studies in biodiversity hotspots through to reconstructing the Fungal Tree of Life, with a special emphasis on evolution and ecology of lifestyles and symbiotic interactions.  

Symbiotic fungi play a major role in most ecosystems, and we have special expertise in lichens, mycorrhizal fungi, ant-farmed fungi, and endophytic fungi, and use these examples of mutualistic symbiosis as model groups to address broader questions related to determinants of diversity and evolution, community ecology and global change.  

Our projects include fieldwork in a wide variety of ecosystems, from tropical areas to alpine ecosystems and temperate and boreal forests. We use different techniques including microscopy, fungal culturing, statistics, phylogenetics and phylogenomics, to address our research questions.  

Team members

Senior research leader 
Dr Ester Gaya 
Research leaders 
Dr Laura Martinez-Suz 

Early career research fellows
Dr Pepijn Kooij
Dr Raquel Pino-Bodas

Research assistant 
Alexander Borg  

Honorary research associates 
Dr Martin I Bidartondo 
Dr David Hawksworth 
Dr Jill Kowal 
PhD students 
Ricardo Arraiano-Castilho 
Rowena Hill


More projects

  • Evolution, diversification and phylogeography of Cladoniaceae (Lecanorales, Ascomycota)
  • Evaluating the contribution of lichens to Alberta’s grassland biological soil crusts through baseline taxonomical research and manipulative grazing and drought experiments 
  • The Cladoniaceae family in the Eurasian Mediterranean Area
  • Exploring endophyte diversity in seeds of crop wild relatives
  • The origin of the fungus-growing ant mutualism
  • Panamanian fungus-growing ant barcoding
  • Oak health and functional diversity of ectomycorrhizas
  • Impact of forest degradation on plant and fungal diversity and distribution in southern Patagonia: increasing awareness and preserving endemic species