Since the beginning of mycology, studies of species concept in fungi have been mainly based on morphology, partially due to the history of mycology as part of botany. Current advances in biochemical and molecular research have provided mycologists with powerful tools that can be used for delineation of fungal taxa. Recently, an integrated approach to fungal taxonomy involving both morphological and molecular traits has found a wide application for identification of species, especially in anamorphic (mitosporic) fungi.
In this thesis, I have tried to use this approach for identification of species units in two rather unrelated groups of organisms. One of the case studies concerned Colletotrichum acutatum – a worldwide economically important plant pathogenic anamorphic fungus, which is exhibiting a high level of variation in both morphological and molecular features. This fungus has been intensively studied during the past decades, and several attempts have been made to find reliable markers to separate it from other closely related species of Colletotrichum. The second case studied in this thesis was Mycelia Sterilia – an artificial group of fungi, which are deficient in production of spores of any kind, therefore lacking the main morphological feature used for assigning them to any certain fungal taxon below class level. Due to this peculiarity, Mycelia Sterilia have usually been neglected, and currently there is no working species concept applicable to these fungi.
In this work, I have tried to clarify the relationships among C. acutatum and several other anamorphic (C. gloeosporioides and C. fructigenum) and teleomorphic (Glomerella acutata, G. cingulata and G. miyabeana) taxa that are closely related to each other. For this purpose, examination of morphological traits was employed in combination with comparison of DNA sequencing data from three loci and subsequent phylogenetic analysis. As a result, re-description of C. acutatum and separation of (at least) two new species was proposed.
For studies of Mycelia Sterilia, a large collection of sterile strains was screened in search for biologically interesting organisms. One novel pathogen has been found, and two plant growth promoting strains with antifungal properties were selected. Attempt for tentative identification of those fungi was made based on their morphological, physiological and molecular features. Sequencing of several genes and spacers of the ribosomal DNA array revealed that the plant pathogenic strain is closely related to the teleomorphic basidiomycete genus Campanella, and plant growth-promoting isolates were identified as belonging to the anamorphic ascomycete genus Phoma. However, assigning the sterile strains to any existing species was not possible.
The main conclusion of the thesis is that species in anamorphic fungi should be defined based on a combination of morphological and molecular methods, both equally important, involving as many aspects of fungal biology as is possible at our current state of knowledge.