Korena Mafune is a 2021 Washington Research Foundation postdoctoral fellow in the University of Washington’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, where she studies the symbiotic interactions among plants, fungi, and bacteria. She received her PhD from UW’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, where she studied the root-associated fungal communities of old-growth bigleaf maple trees in Washington’s Queets and Hoh temperate rainforests. These trees accumulate layers of leaves and other organic matter on their canopy branches, which decay over time and produce a thick mat of organic soil high above the forest floor. Bigleaf maple trees have the capability to grow extensive adventitious rooting networks into these canopy soils which associate with fungal communities that thrive in the damp Pacific Northwest forests; some of these fungal associates attach to the roots and expand their fungal network outwards to aid the tree in taking up plant nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus which the trees rooting system may not be able to reach on its own.
During her PhD, Mafune explored the structures and community diversity of root associated fungi, soil micro-climate, and nutrient dynamics between the two soil environments (both in the forest floor and canopy soils) of several bigleaf maple trees. Her goal was to determine whether there was a noticeable difference between the amount of available plant nutrients that the systems produced, how this is tied to soil temperature and moisture, and how fungal mutualists in the canopy soils may be accessing these nutrients to benefit the host tree.