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Merlin White, Ph.D.

Dr. Merlin White in the fieldAssistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences

Year arrived at BSU: 2007

Mailing Address:
Department of Biology
Boise State University
Boise, ID 83725-1515

Office Location: Science Building, Room 210
Office Number: 208-426-4638
Office Fax: 208-426-4267

E-Mail Address:

Mycology Lab Website


  • Ph.D. Botany (Mycology), University of Kansas. 2002.
  • M.Sc. Dalhousie University (Canada) 1997.
  • B.Ed. Dalhousie University (Canada) 1995.
  • B.Sc. Saint Mary’s University (Canada) 1991.
  • Post doctoral experience: University of Kansas 2002-2006


  • BIOL 192 General Biology II (Lecture section – team taught Dr. J Carnes), Spr. 2008 (38 enrolled)
  • BIOL 279/479/579. Research in the Biol. Sciences/Biology Seminar Series, Spr. 2008 (2/8/2 enrolled)
  • BOT 330/330G Mycology Lecture & Laboratory, Fall 2007-08; 19/1 enrolled 2007; 13 in 2008)
  • BIOL 498/598 Graduate Seminar “Rivers & Microbes: the microbial ecology of anthropogenically influenced fluvial systems” – team taught with Dr. K. Feris (Fall 2008 (2/3 enrolled)
  • BIOL 696. Directed Research (Graduate Level), Fall 2008 (1 enrolled)
  • BIOL 496. Independent Study (Undergraduate level), Spr. 2008 (1 enrolled)


My research aims to understand the unique association of obligate endosymbionts (“gut fungi”), which can be found worldwide, attached variously to the digestive tract of their (non-predaceous) arthropod hosts. This group of fungi, traditionally placed in the Class Trichomycetes, is quite understudied—historically having been studied by only a handful of researchers at any given time in the approximate century and a half since their first discovery. The gut fungi are diverse and most surveys where we have sampled in the last 10 years (particularly for members of the order Harpellales) have revealed new taxa (as high as 1 new species per 2-3 days with 1-3 people collecting and dissecting).

My fascination is truly captured by the biology of this group of symbiotic fungi and the surprising evolutionary twists that they present when you take a closer look at them. As I arrive in Idaho (never before surveyed for gut fungi) I am particularly interested in learning more about suitable and interesting moist habitats (springs, seeps, creeks etc.) where hosts might be expected (or even well studied) to begin to assess the western species of gut fungi that will be found here.

Therefore, as I initiate a research program at Boise State there will be opportunities for basic field studies (collections of aquatic insects and other suitable arthropods from local streams, creeks etc.), training in the techniques involved in dissecting hosts, proper slide preparation and using traditional morphological approaches to identify and initiate a species list of gut fungi in Boise and the vicinity. These techniques will require patience (all of the fungi are microscopic) to develop a steady hand and to acquire “an eye” and “search image” for them. If you believe you have such an interest, I will be delighted to speak with you about possible research opportunities in my lab.

Aside from biodiversity surveys to try to discover and document new species or expand known distributions of other species—using morphology, I also use molecular systematic tools and phylogeny reconstruction to infer natural relationships among extant taxa of gut fungi and to understand how they have evolved with their hosts (the fungi exhibit varying degrees of host specificity). The data being generated from DNA sequences, especially from unculturable exemplars of the dissected microfungi, are prompting us to pause and reconsider the origins of these symbionts that have evolved so intimately with their hosts. If you think graduate studies along this molecular systematic line would be of interest, please contact me.

For more information about these fungi, a web-based monograph is available at


2008. Strongman DB, White MM. Trichomycetes from lentic and lotic aquatic habitats in Ontario, Canada. Botany. 86: 1449-1466.

2008. Valle LG, White MM, Cafaro MJ. Harpellales in the digestive tracts of Ephemeroptera and Plecoptera nymphs from Veracruz, Mexico. Mycologia 100: 149-162.

2007. A higher-level phylogenetic classification of the Fungi. Hibbett DS, Binder M, Bischoff JF, Blackwell M, Cannon PF, Eriksson O, Huhndorf S, James T, Kirk PM, Lücking R, Lumbsch T, Lutzoni F, Matheny PB, Mclaughlin DJ, Powell MJ, Redhead S, Schoch CL, Spatafora JW, Stalpers JA, Vilgalys R, Aime MC, Aptroot A, Bauer R, Begerow D, Benny GL, Castlebury LA, Crous PW, Dai Y-C, Gams W, Geiser DM, Griffith GW, Gueidan C, Hawksworth DL, Hestmark G, Hosaka K, Humber RA, Hyde K, Kõljalg U, Kurtzman CP, Larsson K-H, Lichtwardt R, Longcore J, Miądlikowska J, Miller A, Moncalvo J-M, Mozley-Standridge S, Oberwinkler F, Parmasto E, Reeb V, Rogers JD, Roux C, Ryvarden L, Sampaio JP, Schuessler A, Sugiyama J, Thorn RG, Tibell L, Untereiner WA, Walker C, Wang Z, Weir A, Weiss M, White MM, Winka K, Yao Y-J, Zhang N. Last 20 authors are listed alphabetically. Mycological Research 122: 509-547.

2006. White MM, James T, O’Donnell K, Cafaro MJ, Tanabe Y, Sugiyama J. Phylogeny of the Zygomycota based on nuclear ribosomal sequence data. Mycologia 98: 872-884.

2006. White MM, Colbo MH, Lichtwardt RW. Confirmation and identification of parasitic stages of obligate endobionts (Harpellales) in blackflies (Simuliidae) by means of rRNA sequence data. Mycological Research 110: 1070-1079.

2006. White MM. Evolutionary implications of a rRNA based phylogeny of the Harpellales. Mycological Research 110: 1011-1024.

2006. Strongman DB, White MM. New species of Lancisporomyces, Orphella, and Paramoebidium, endosymbionts of stonefly nymphs from streams in Nova Scotia, Canada. Canadian Journal of Botany 84(6): 1417-1495.

2006. White MM, Siri A, Lichtwardt RW. Fungal insect symbionts (Trichomycetes) in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and vicinity. Mycologia 98: 333-352.

2006. James TY, Kauff F, Schoch CL, Matheny PB, Hofstetter V, Cox C, Celio G, Gueidan C, Fraker E, Miadlikowska J, Lumbsch HT, Rauhut A, Reeb V, Arnold EA, Amtoft A, Stajich JE, Hosaka K, Sung G-H, Johnson D, O’Rourke B, Crockett M, Binder M, Curtis JM, Slot JC, Wang Z, Wilson AW, Schüßler A, Longcore JE, O’Donnell K, Mozley-Standridge S, Porter D, Letcher PM, Powell MJ, Taylor JW, White MM, Griffith GW, Davies DR, Humber RA, Morton J, Sugiyama J, Rossman AY, Rogers JD, Pfister DH, Hewitt D, Hansen K, Hambleton S, Shoemaker RA, Kohlmeyer J, Volkmann-Kohlmeyer B, Spotts RA, Serdani M, Crous PW, Hughes KW, Matsuura K, Langer E, Langer G, Untereiner WA, Lücking R, Büdel B, Geiser DM, Aptroot A, Diederich P, Schmitt I, Schultz M, Yahr R, Hibbett DS, Lutzoni F, McLaughlin D, Spatafora J, Vilgalys R. Reconstructing the early evolution of the fungi using a six gene phylogeny. Nature 443: 818-822.

2004. White MM, Lichtwardt RW. Fungal symbionts (Harpellales) in Norwegian aquatic insect larvae. Mycologia 96: 891-910.

2004. Suh S-O, White MM, Nguyen NH, Blackwell M. The status and characterization of Enteroramus dimorphus: a xylose-fermenting yeast attached to the gut of beetles. Mycologia 96: 756-760.

2003. Ferrington LC, White MM, Lichtwardt RW. A new genus of Trichomycetes from Dixa fluvica Peters (Diptera: Dixidae). Aquatic Insects 25: 85-94.

2003. White MM. First report of Basidiolum fimbriatum since 1861, with comments on its development, occurrence, distribution and relationship with other fungi. Mycological Research 107: 245-250.

2001. Lichtwardt RW, White MM, Colbo MH. Harpellales in Newfoundland aquatic insect larvae. Mycologia 93: 764-773.

2000. White MM, Cafaro MJ, Lichtwardt RW. Arthropod gut fungi from Puerto Rico and summary of tropical Trichomycetes worldwide. Caribbean Journal of Science 36: 210-220.

2000. White MM, McLaren IA. Copepod development rates in relation to genome size and 18S rDNA copy number. Genome 43: 750-755.

1999. White MM. Legerioides, a new genus of Harpellales in isopods and other Trichomycetes from New England, USA. Mycologia 91: 1021-1030.

1999. Misra JK, White MM, Lichtwardt RW. Furculomyces septentrionalis reveals an unusual distribution for this genus of Harpellales. Mycologia 91: 703-706.

1999. Lichtwardt RW, White MM, Cafaro MJ, Misra JK. Fungi associated with passalid beetles and their mites. Mycologia 91: 694-702.

1995. Wyngaard GA, McLaren IA, White MM, Sevigny J-M. Unusually high numbers of ribosomal genes in copepods (Arthropoda: Crustacea) and their relationship to genome size. Genome 38: 97-104.

Book chapters and web-based publications

2003. Lichtwardt RW, White MM, Cafaro MJ. Freshwater Trichomycetes and their arthropod hosts. In: Freshwater Mycology. CKM Tsui and KD Hyde eds. Fungal Diversity Press. Hong Kong. pp. 81-100.

2001. White MM, Cafaro MJ, Gottlieb AM. Taxonomy and Systematics of Trichomycetes – Past, present and future. In: Trichomycetes and other fungal groups: Robert W. Lichtwardt commemoration volume. B Horn and JK Misra eds. Oxford & IBH Publishing Co. Pvt. Ltd. New Delhi. pp. 27-37.

2001. Benny GL, White MM. The Classification and Phylogeny of the Zygomycetes and Trichomycetes. In: Trichomycetes and other fungal groups: Robert W. Lichtwardt commemoration volume. B Horn and JK Misra eds. Oxford & IBH Publishing Co. Pvt. Ltd. New Delhi. pp. 37-53.

2001. Lichtwardt RW, Cafaro MJ, White MM. The Trichomycetes: Fungal Associates of Arthropods. On-line publication (



Newfoundland. May 17-June 2, 1999. Two papers published. The first recorded four new species of Harpellales and the second used material collected to establish ovarian cysts as Harpellales (using rDNA sequence data) (with R.W. Lichtwardt and M.H. Colbo).

Nova Scotia. Freshwater and marine systems have been sampled on: December 29-30, 1997; September 20-21, 1998; December 10-12, 1998; June 3-5, 1999; February 6-10, 2000; October 7-15, 2000, December 26-28, 2001. The data gathered is being consolidated and summarized (with D. Strongman, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax). The first report of gut fungi from Nova Scotia is published (6 new species of fungal endosymbionts in stonefly hosts) and three more papers are anticipated.

Ontario. May 16-24, 2004. A survey of Trichomycetes in Algonquin Provincial Park (with D. Strongman) and near Guelph (in collaboration with S. Marshall). Preliminary data indicate 3-4 new species of gut fungi and two major new groups of hosts (paper in prep).

British Columbia. July 3-19, 2006. First survey of gut fungi in BC (with D. Strongman), in and near the Kootenay Rocky Mountain Range, based at Selkirk College, Castlegar.


Midwestern Plains (KS, MO, OK). Numerous surveys for gut fungi August 1997-June 2006 while based at The University of Kansas, including training several undergraduates in the methods involved. Numerous new records and range extensions – at least one new species to describe.

Ozark Plateau Mountains. Collections of larval insects and other arthropod hosts of Trichomycetes in AR, OK and MO. March 25-27, 1997.

Rocky Mountains, Colorado. Collection of larval insects for examination of Trichomycetes in Rocky Mountain National Park. September 27-28, 1997. One new species with notes on unexpected distribution, reported in one paper. Subsequent survey June 3, 2003 with probable new species in aquatic beetles.

New England. Collection of larval insects from streams and falls in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, for examination of Trichomycetes, November 7-8, 1997, resulting in one new genus in one publication. Several sites in Green Mountains of Vermont, August 1-2, 2000, resulted in several new records.

Northern Plains, USA. New records of gut fungi in larval aquatic insects from streams and falls in South Dakota. March 14, 1998.

North Atlantic Coast. Near Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institute, March 24-26, 1998.

Puerto Rico. First survey of marine and freshwater hosts of Trichomycetes, including sites near El Verde cloud forest. June 18-24, 1998. Findings have been reported in one publication.

Wasatch Mountains, Utah. Survey of larval aquatic insects; at least one new species of gut fungus to describe from the Provo River. August – September, 2001.

California. 1) Yosemite National Park. First survey of freshwater hosts, with at least one (but probably two) new species of gut fungi to publish. May, 2001; August, 2003. 2) Bodega Bay and vicinity, while based at the Marine Station. Sampled marine crustaceans and freshwater insects – noteworthy range expansions for several species. June 5-9, 2002.

Tampa Bay, Florida. Collected marine intertidal isopods (Ligia sp.) infested with gut fungi. February 5, 2003.

Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee and North Carolina. Collected gut fungi in various streams and freshwater lentic systems in GSMNP and vicinity July 21-August 4, 2004. Findings (including an unusual new genus) have been reported in one publication.

Cascade Mountains, Willamette National Forest, while based at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest Research Station, Blue River, Oregon, August 29-September 13, 2005 (with R.W. Lichtwardt). Several new species of Harpellales to publish.


Two major surveys undertaken with R.W. Lichtwardt. The first was completed May 1-23, 2002 and focused on two major areas: 1) near Oslo, while based at the University of Oslo and 2) in western Norway, while based at the University of Bergen’s field station in Ekse. Over 250 samples of gut fungi (Harpellales) were preserved for DNA extraction and sequencing (in progress). After a second survey, August 17 – September 2, 2002, based at Lake Snaasavatnet Field Station (operated by University of Trondheim), our taxonomic findings (9 new species) were consolidated and have been published as the first major survey of Norwegian Harpellales (Trichomycetes).


Led the first two expeditions to survey gut fungi in Mexico [with Laia Guardia Valle (Spain) and Matias Cafaro (Puerto Rico)]. 1st survey was based in Xalapa (at Instituto de Biologia et Ecologia) Nov. 3-19, 2005, included training one Mexican graduate student (Ricardo Garcia-Sandoval). The 2nd survey was based at Los Tuxtlas Field Station (UNAM) July 21-August 13, 2006. New species (both Harpellales and Asellariales) for at least two joint papers in preparation.