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My interests lie in: (i) elucidating the evolutionary origins and diversification of symbiotic associations; (ii) clarifying the roles traits have played in shaping lineage diversification; (iii) understanding the roles fungi have played in the evolution of terrestrial ecosystems.  I am a research scientist at The Field Museum (Integrative Research Center) working with Thorsten Lumbsch on questions related to the evolution of fungi and their symbionts.  I was previously a post-doctoral researcher with Corrie Moreau, working on ecological niche modeling in ants, and held joint post-doctoral position prior to that with Corrie Moreau and Rick Ree, where I worked on the evolution of ant-plant interactions. Prior to this, I was a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University (Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences), where I worked with Kevin Boyce on the evolution of fungi, their interactions with other lineages, and their contributions to the evolution of evolution of terrestrial ecosystems.  My Ph.D. was conducted at the University of Chicago (Committee on Evolutionary Biology), and focused on questions related to the macroevolutionary dynamics of fungi, and the evolutionary origins and diversification of symbiotic associations. To address these questions, I utilized the lichen symbiosis (associations between fungi and algae) as a model. As many of these questions rely on the accurate placement of taxa and understanding the identity of these algal symbionts, much of my work focused on clarifying the phylogenetic position of various fungal taxa and using sequence data to identify algal symbionts while simultaneously elucidating their genetic diversity. Additionally, many of these questions rely on accurate estimates of species richness, consequently, I have also worked on projects related to species delimitation and the formal description of unclassified taxa.


Ph.D. University of Chicago, Committee on Evolutionary Biology

M.S. University of Wisconsin-Madison, Botany

B.S. University of Wisconsin-Madison, Botany and Conservation Biology


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Contact: mpnelsen [@] gmail [.] com (remove brackets [ ] and spaces)