The Matheny Lab

The University of Tennessee


We do research in fungal systematics and evolutionary biology. We collect field specimens and natural history collections to discern taxonomic and evolutionary relationships of mushrooms using methods of phylogenetic inference. We use phylogenies not just for classification purposes, but also to test hypotheses about the evolution of symbioses, fungal biogeographical patterns, trait evolution, and patterns of diversification in mushrooms.

Brian wins a DOE Fellowship

Brian Looney, fourth year PhD student, keeps raking in the grants and awards. This one is a one-year stipend that will support improving his research by providing access to facilities and expertise at the Oak Ridge National Lab. Brian will conduct this work in collaboration and under the tutelage of Jessy Labbe.

Emma gets Cortinarius violaceus on the cover of the current issue of Mycologia

Thanks to Taylor Lockwood for sharing the photo.

Congrats to Joshua Birkebak for passing his PhD dissertation defense!

Dr. J. will fine tune his last dissertation chapter early this summer and should be set to graduate in August.

Hailee Korotkin, our newest graduate student

Hailee, a business admin post-graduate, has been accepted into our Master’s program here in EEB starting fall 2015. Hailee intends to investigate the nature of a moss-fungal interaction between Dicranum scoparium (the moss) and one of its fungal symbionts, Rickenella fibula. Hailee will hit the ground running as she has just over a year’s worth of experience studying this system. We’re all very happy to have Hailee now in our research program here in EEB.

Lots of awards this spring to my graduate students:

Marisol Sanchez-Garcia, Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant and the Cokkinias Graduate Fellowship Award

Brian Looney, Alexander Hollaender Graduate Fellowship Award and a Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation.

These awards are a big deal, so deserving congrats to Marisol

and Brian!

Mid-Atlantic States Mycological Conference Apr. 2015

Ten of us involved in research here in east Tennessee made it over to Duke University for MASMC. Brian, Emma, Marisol, and Hailee all presented in a forum that is mainly geared towards graduate student research. We found a few morels in the Duke Forest, but things seem late this year. But everyone now knows of David Hibbett’s secret prized morel patches!

Emma gets her Cortinarius violaceus group study accepted

The journal Mycologia has accepted Emma’s manuscript on the evolution and distribution of species in the Cortinarius violaceus group, a rather charismatic group of species distributed throughout many parts of the world. Not only did Emma get this work accepted, but Mycologia wants C. violaceus on the cover of the issue in which the paper will be published! Congrats to Emma!

Busy spring semester 2015

Joshua should finish up his PhD this spring, and Emma looks to take her PhD candidacy exam. Brian will start a collaboration at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Jessy Labbe’s group. Marisol is refining her diversification study of the Tricholomatoid clade, and Hailee is getting gametophytes of Dicranum to grow for experimental treatment with the moss-associated fungus, Rickenella fibula. Brandon, in addition to teaching intro biology for 225 undergraduates, is revising the monograph of Australian Inocybaceae. One undergraduate, Joshua Rutland, and a postgraduate, Rachel Sweney, will get involved with our research group this spring.

NAMA Foray, Eatonville, Washington (Oct. 2014)

Almost everyone from the lab made it up to Seattle and the drive over near Mt. Rainier for this year’s NAMA foray in honor of Patrice Benson. Patrice was a neighbor of mine in the Mt. Baker neighborhood of Seattle (along with Ben Woo and Steve Trudell) when I was a grad student. Patrice died a few years ago when cancer tragically took her life. She was a real mover and shaker in the local club, the Puget Sound Mycological Society. Joshua took over the voucher program this year, and Hailee assisted. Brian and Marisol did some collecting. Brandon continued his book tour on Australian Inocybaceae and got to see some old haunts and digs in Seattle, plus eat at the amazing restaurant Sitka and Spruce. This inspired me to make my own preserved lemons!

Congratulations to Brian Looney!

Brian passed his PhD qualifying exams. Members of his committee include Jessy Labbe, Karen Hughes, and Brian O’Meara.

Wildacres NAMA Foray, North Carolina (Sept. 2014)

The Wildacres foray is perhaps my favorite foray of all. The mushrooms are good, the scenery can’t be beat, the food is more than adequate, and the Asheville and local collectors are awesome to work with. Emma and I (Brandon) gave talks on the Cortinarius violaceus group (their genetic diversity, phylogeography, and taxonomic diversity) and on Australian Inocybaceae, respectively. About 260 species of macrofungi were identified during the foray.

NEMF Foray in Brunswick, Maine (Aug. 2014)

Brandon was the keynote speaker at the NEMF Foray this year on the lovely campus of Bowdoin College. He gave a talk about evolution of ectomycorrhizal Agaricales.

The Inocybaceae of Australia monograph (July 2014)

Whew! Neale Bougher and I submitted our manuscript on a monograph of Australian Inocybaceae to the publishers. In it we document 137 Australian species of Inocybaceae, of which 101 are new, using a combination of morphological, ecological, and molecular phylogenetic data. I think this is going to be a rather large volume.

Marisol wins NAMA Memorial Fellowship

Congrats to Marisol for receiving a $2,000 NAMA Memorial Fellowship award from the Mycological Society of America. This is Marisol’s third award this past year!

Tuula Niskanen visit and collaboration

Tuula (University of Helsinki) is visiting us during spring break to do some work on the Dermocybe clade, a group of ca. 80 species, from the northern hemisphere. She is interested in trait and plant host evolution and measuring phylogenetic beta diversity of Dermocybe in Europe and North America and between boreal and temperate biomes. Eventually, she’d like to examine biogeographical diversity of Cortinarius, the largest genus of Agaricales with some 2000 species, on a global scale. We described a new species together, Cortinarius hesleri, last year, a widespread eastern North American species named in honor of L.R. Hesler, former mycologist and dean at the University of Tennessee.

Interview with Joel Horman

Brandon’s interview with the Long Island Mycological Club’s Joel Horman is out in their winter bulletin. Joel was curious about the taxonomic status of several North American species of Inocybe, which Brandon was more than happy to discuss! The interview will also be posted in an upcoming issue of The Mycophile.

EEB undergrads in the lab - spring semester 2014

Stacia Warkwick and Brock Patton, who took Brandon’s field mycology course, will do research projects this spring. Stacia will be curating field collections from this past year, while Brock will do literary research on White-Nose Syndrome, a disease  of bats caused by the fungus, Geomyces destructans. Mitchell Connell returns for a BOT112 project to draft a key to species of Cantharellus (chanterelles) from North America. Several new species have been described as new as of late, some of which may be new reports from the southern Appalachians.

NSF grant funded

Matt Smith (PI) at the University of Florida and Brandon (co-PI) have received an award to study ectomycorrhizal fungal communities of Nothofagus and Salix in southern South America. Work will commence in July of 2014. Hello Argentina! And Chile too.

October 2013 - tenure seminar

Brandon gave his tenure talk to the EEB department on evolution of ectomycorrhizal fungi. Brandon will gear up for two more talks in 2014, one at Purdue and the other at the Field Museum.

Slavomir Adamcik’s research visit to Knoxville

Slavomir, a fungal systematist at the Slovak Academy of Sciences, received a Slovak-American Foundation award to join us in the lab and field on a collaborative research project entailing generic concepts of groups of Clavariaceae together with PhD student Joshua Birkebak. Slavo worked with us for two months, did a short collecting stint in Colorado, and showed us how to search and find species of Camarophyllopsis and Hodophilus in their natural habitats. Slavo is also a taxonomic specialist in the genus Russula

Congratulations to Marisol!

Marisol Sanchez-Garcia passed her PhD candidacy exam with flying colors. She is presently working on a systematic revision of the Tricholomataceae reducing the family to 7-8 major clades.

NSF full proposals submitted at last

Whew. The last two months have been pretty much occupied by grant writing. If funded, one will support systematic training and three projects in fungal systematics with an emphasis on North American taxa. The other is a collaboration with Matt Smith at the University of Florida that proposes to examine the ectomycorrhizal fungal communities of Nothofagus and Salix in southern South America.

Australian Inocybaceae update

Neale and I are closely approaching now 80 species for the Fungi of Australia volume on Inocybaceae of Australia. Each species is treated with a complete morphological description, photographs shot in situ, and Neale’s excellent quality line-art in the tradition of Egon Horak. Other stuff is planned for the book, including phylogenetic treatments and discussion of morphological and ecological characters.

Other lab papers now out: 6-Aug-2013

Brian Looney has his paper out now on the systematics of southeast species of Auricularia. Joshua’s work is now in print in the latest issue of Mycologia. PDFs for these are available on the ‘Publications’ page.

Marisol wins another award and has new paper in press

Marisol has won her second graduate student research prize, this one from the Botanical Society of America (BSA). Her taxonomic work on Mexican species of Melanoleuca is also now in press in Revista Mexicana de Biodiversidad (see publications page for a pdf).

MASMC and various awards for lab members

Eight of us Vols trekked upwards to Beltsville, Maryland for the 34th MASMC meeting, a conference geared towards presentation of undergraduate and graduate student research. This years participants came from Tennessee, North Carolina State, Clemson, Duke, North Carolina A&T, Maryland, Clark, Rutgers, and Akron, among others. Happy to say that Christine Braaten received a travel award to the conference from the UT Plant Research Center. For his presentation Joshua won a MASMC research prize. In addition, Marisol won a research award from the American Society of Plant Taxonomists. Way to go, guys!

Muscarine/psilocybin paper now in press

Current BCMB grad student Pawel Kosentka has led the publication of a research paper accepted by PLoS One on the evolution of two fungal toxins in the Inocybaceae. The SARIF Open Publishing Fund via the UT library will subsidize the open access charges. The paper is now available freely via open access.

Joshua wins ‘Science Alliance’ prize

Science Alliance prizes are awarded to advanced PhD students across our units of Biology (Micro, BCMB, EEB). Joshua was one of a handful of winners of the prize this year. Congrats to Joshua for a pretty handsome award.

MASMC is coming up at the end of the month

And we’re bringing an onslaught from Knoxville to Beltsville. Joshua, Marisol, Brian, and Christine will all be giving talks at this one-day conference held every spring. Jessica Bryant, a PhD student with Aimee Classen, will be joining us, as well as our postgrad lab assistant, Hailee Korotkin.

9 April 2013: Brian Looney wins honorable mention award

Brian submitted a graduate research fellowship proposal to NSF last fall for work on the genus Russula and received an honorable mention. He’ll get another crack at this prestigious award this coming fall. Nice job, Brian!

11 March 2013: Congrats to Martin Ryberg, former postdoc

Martin is now a Research Professor at the University of Uppsala. Martin returned to Sweden from his 2.5 year postdoc with us. He was just offered and accepted a permanent position. Time for a field trip to Sweden and to pay our homages to Elias Fries.

8 March 2013: Brian and Joshua have papers in press

Brian Looney’s work on southeastern U.S. species of Auricularia is now in press with North American Fungi. The first chapter of Joshua’s PhD thesis is in press at Mycologia and provides a systematic, evolutionary, and ecological overview of the Clavariacaee, a family that may be the sister group to the rest of the Agaricales.

1 March 2013: Congrats to Pawel Kosentka and Sarah Sprague! There work on muscarine and psilocybin evolution in the Inocybaceae has been accepted with minor revisions in PLoS One.

12 February 2013: Welcome to new members of the lab, Mitchell Connell, Sean Dornbush, and Hailee Korotkin

We’d like to welcome three new additions to our research group including two undergraduates, Mitchell Connell and Sean Dornbush, and one recent UT graduate Hailee Korotkin. Mitchell has interests in environmental studies and is being mentored by PhD student, Joshua Birkebak. Sean is a pre-med biology major, mentored by PhD student Marisol Sanchez; Sean is interested in use of molecular tools for phylogenetic studies. And, our third new lab member, Hailee Korotken, is a recent graduate from the business school on campus. Hailee has interests in fungal biology and cultivation. We are disappointed to see the departure of undergrad Sarah Slocum, who has migrated to a psychology lab more in line with her future research interests. We wish her the best and will miss Sarah. Welcome to the lab, Mitchell, Sean, and Hailee!

1 February 2013: Brandon returns from Estonia: UNITE jamboree

Urmas Koljalg, director of Natural History Museum at the University of Tartu, hosted numerous fungal taxonomists (mainly from European countries) to annotate reference ITS sequences of species of fungi. These reference sequences will be used to anchor species hypotheses at various similarity thresholds for metagenomic studies of the environment.

10 September 2012: Brandon returns from Malaysian fungal taxonomic workshop with field ecologists

Brandon got to work with Krista McQuire from Barnard College and Kabir Peay from Stanford and numerous undergrads and forestry technicians and taxonomic experts Bart Buyck, Roy Halling, and Urmas Koljalg at the Pasoh dipterocarp forest plot located on pensinular Malaysia.

6 September 2012: Towards a North American Mycoflora project

Here’s a link to great talks as YouTube videos at the FESIN workshop at Yale University led by Tom Bruns from Cal-Berkeley.

1 September 2012: Martin returns to Sweden

Well, we’re disappointed to see him go, but Martin is on to newer and bigger things at this new position in Uppsala, Sweden, a coming home. Had a final poker party as a farewell.


Welcome to the Matheny Lab

We are interested in the diversity and evolutionary history of mushroom-forming fungi. Please see our links to find out more about us, including research opportunities, teaching, and outreach.


Brandon Matheny and Neale Bougher in Boranup Forest of Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park, south-west Western Australia in Karri and Marri forest (Eucalyptus diversicolor and Corymbia calophylla). Prime habitat for ectomycorrhizal fungi. Photo taken in July 2010.

Martin Ryberg (right), with Laszlo Nagy (left) and Sara Branco, at Martin’s poster session during IMC9 in Edinburgh, Scotland, August 2010.

Former undergrads Pawel Kosentka and Sarah Sprague, winners of a Phi Kappa Phi award for their research on “Evolution of the fungal toxin muscarine in a family of mushroom-forming fungi”.

Joshua Birkeback, PhD candidate (left) and current PhD graduate student, Brian Looney, pause during a fungal collecting trip in east Tennessee.

Marisol Sanchez, third-year PhD student interested in fungal systematics, evolution, and bioinformatics.

Virginia Ramirez Cruz examining species of Deconica. in Knoxville. Viki recently received her PhD with Laura Guzman-Davalos at the University of Guadalajara doing systematics of Psilocybe and related fungi. Viki visited our lab to generate a multigene dataset.

Eucalyptus grandis forest in the Main Range NP, southeast Queensland, March 2012. Roy Halling, Nigel Fechner, and Brandon Matheny are in the foreground. Photo by Neale Bougher.

Brandon with Thi Bhee Kin, a technician with Forestry and Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM), at the ECM fungal taxonomic workshop organized and hosted by Krista McGuire, Kabir Peay, and FRIM.

Fungal taxonomic training in the field in Malaysia.

The UNITE jamboree held in Tartu, Estonia during January 2013. Participants contributed numerous ‘species hypotheses’ for a manuscript on fungal bioinformatics.

Marisol (3rd year PhD student) and Brandon after Marisol’s candidacy exam. Karen Hughes, Darrin Hulsey, and Sally Horn are members of Marisol’s committee.

Brian Looney (left) with Slavomir Adamcik talking Russula taxonomy.

Brian Looney (left) with Cortinarius expert Tuula Niskanen.

Wild edible mushrooms at the Pike Place Market in Seattle. Photo by Stacia Warwick. Oct. 2014.

Hailee Korotkin and Brian Looney at the NAMA foray in Washington state, Oct. 2014. Hailee is the lab’s newest graduate student (entering fall 2015).

Dr. Joshua Birkebak, April 2015, holding up now his own copy of Corner’s treatment of Clavaria and allied genera. Thanks to Steve Trudell for the gift!