Kali Lader


I am interested in interactions between plants and fungi. From pathogens to mutualisms, both plants and fungi have affected each other's evolution, ecology and physiology. In particular I am studying fungi that live on and in the foliage of Sequoia sempervirens, the coast redwood. These fungi are small but ubiquitous in redwood forests and may have a role in the physiology of their plant host. 
Sequoia sempervirens are among the tallest trees in the world. There are many issues that are particular to tall trees, one of those issues is water transport. It was recently discovered by researchers in the Dawson lab at UC Berkeley that coast redwoods are able to absorb water through their leaf surfaces. This unique physiology allows their upper branches to access water that is usually unobtainable. This by passes the usual path of water absorption occurring in the roots and being transported through the xylem all the way to the top of the tree. This process is especially important for redwoods during the dry summer months when fog absorption through the foliage can make up a large part of their water intake. While it is know that this occurs, the actual mechanism is still unknown. It is my hypothesis that the fungi living in and on the leaves of this plant are facilitating this process.
My research focuses on identifying these microscopic fungi in order to characterize the community living throughout the redwood canopy and on investigating whether or not these fungi are affecting the foliar absorption of water by their host tree. I am using current molecular methods for identification and characterization of the communities and stable isotope techniques to investigate the physiology of these interactions.
Kali is funded by the Save the Redwoods League and received a 2010 NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant and a 2011-2012 UC Dissertation Year Fellowship.