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Stephen P. Bentivenga Ph.D.

Professor of Mycology bentivenga-stephen2

Office: HS 111
Phone: (920) 424-7088


Ph.D., 1991, Plant Pathology, Kansas State University
M.S., 1988, Biological Sciences (emphasis in botany), Illinois State University
B.A., 1986, Biology, Illinois Wesleyan University

Courses Taught

Mycology 321
Biology of Plants and Microbes 231
Biological Concepts: Diversity 106
Graduate Seminar 748

Professional and Research Interests

Fungi are everywhere. When most people hear the word “fungus,” they think of athlete’s foot or something nasty growing in the refrigerator. The negative connotation of fungi is partially due to the tremendous amount of human suffering and economic loss caused by crop plant diseases and postharvest rots. However, the vast majority of fungi are beneficial to humans. They decompose organic matter and recycle nutrients. Fungi are utilized by humans to bake bread, brew beer, and produce many industrially and medicinally important compounds. Fungi have a fascinating lifestyle which enables them to grow through their substrate, secreting an enormous array of enzymes to digest their meals outside their bodies. Neither plant nor animal, they are of another realm altogether. Long considered to be allied to the plants, the weight of evidence now indicates they are more closely related to animals. I’m interested in all aspects of plant-fungal interactions, both pathogenic and mutualistic. My specific expertise is in symbiotic soil fungi called mycorrhizal fungi. These fungi form a mutualistic association with many plant species by colonizing the roots, and assisting in nutrient acquisition. There are different types of mycorrhizal fungi, and I study a group called arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi which are placed in their own order, Glomales. The Order Glomales consists of only about 150 species, yet they colonize an estimated 80 percent of all plant species. I am interested in various aspects of the diversity of these fungi.

A Wisconsin licence plat with the word MYCORZA

Specific questions I’m pursuing include: What accounts for the diversity of glomalean fungi? Is a diverse population of mycorrhizal fungi beneficial for plant growth? How do different fungal genotypes interact to help (or hinder) a plant? Is there a relationship between fungal diversity and plant diversity? The mycorrhizal symbiosis is ancient, having evolved some 400 million years ago (shortly after plants colonized land). Unraveling the mysteries of how these fungi evolved has proven frustrating indeed! I am interested in the systematics of AM fungi, and use morphological and other characters to help elucidate phylogenetic relationships within the order. I am also curious about the potential ancestors of AM fungi, since they are quite different from all other extant fungal groups. I am also interested in the role that AM fungi play in native ecosystems. For example, many tallgrass prairie plants are obligately mycorrhizal in low nutrient soils. I am investigating the potential role of AM fungi in prairie revegetation efforts. Funding to support my resesarch has come from a variety of sources, including the National Science Foundation.  Scanning electron micrograph of Acaulospora tuberculata VZ103A, showing details of the spore wall layers

Scanning electron micrograph of Acaulospora tuberculata VZ103A, showing details of the spore wall layers.




Bentivenga pic 3

Diagrammatic representation of the germ tube tip of Gigaspora gigantea, based on transmission electron microscopy of freeze-substituted specimens. Note that the tip lacks an organized Spitzenkörper, but has different types of vesicles and putative lipid bodies near the tip.


Recent Publications

  • Ji, B., Bentivenga, S.P., and Casper, B.B. 2012. Differences in AM fungal spore communities between serpentine and prairie grasslands correlate with soil chemistries. Oecologia 168: 187-197. doi: 10.1007/s00442-011-2067-0
  • Weiher, E. Freund, D, Bunnton, T., Stefanski, A, Lee, T. and Bentivenga, S.P. 2011. Advances, challenges, and a developing synthesis of ecological community assembly theory. Trans. Royal Soc. London. B. Series. (in press)
  • Ji, B., Bentivenga, S.P., and Casper, B.B. 2010. Evidence for ecological matching of whole AM fungal communities to the local plant-soil environment. Ecology 91: 3037-3046. doi: 10.1890/09-1451
  • Casper, B.B., Bentivenga, S.P., Ji, B., Doherty, J.H., Edenborn, H.M. and Gustafson, D.J. Plant-soil feedback: Testing the generality with the same grasses in serpentine and prairie soils. 2008. Ecology 89(9):2154-2164.
  • Morton, J.B., Koske, R.E., Sturmer, S.L. and Bentivenga, S.P. 2004. Mutualistic arbuscular endomycorrhizal fungi. pp 317-336 in Biodiversity of Fungi: Inventory and Monitoring Methods (G.M. Mueller, G.F. Bills, and M.S. Foster, Eds.) Elsevier Academic Press, Boston.
  • Bentivenga, S.P. 1998. Ecology and evolution of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. McIlvainea 13:30-39.
  • Bago, B., Bentivenga, S.P., Brenac, V., Dodd, J.C., Piché, Y., and Simon, L. 1998. Molecular analysis of Gigaspora (Glomales, Gigasporaceae). New Phytol. 139:581-588.
  • Bentivenga, S.P., Bever, J.D., and Morton, J.B. 1997. Genetic variation of morphological characters within a single isolate of the endomycorrhizal fungus, Glomus clarum(Glomaceae). Amer. J. Bot. 84:1211-1216.
  • Bentivenga, S.P. and Morton, J.B. 1996. Congruence of fatty acid methyl ester profiles and morphological characters of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in Gigasporaceae. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA 93:5659-5662.
  • Bentivenga, S.P. and Morton, J.B. 1995. A monograph of the genus Gigaspora, incorporating developmental patterns of morphological characters. Mycologia 87: 720-732.
  • Morton, J.B., Bentivenga, S.P., and Bever, J.D. 1995. Discovery, measurement, and interpretation of diversity in symbiotic endomycorrhizal fungi (Glomales, Zygomycetes). Can. J. Bot. 73:S25-S32.
  • Bentivenga, S.P. and Morton, J.B. 1994. Stability and heritability of fatty acid methyl ester profiles of glomalean endomycorrhizal fungi. Mycol. Res. 98:1419-1426.
  • Morton, J.B. and Bentivenga, S.P. 1994. Levels of diversity in endomycorrhizal fungi (Glomales, Zygomycetes) and their role in defining taxonomic and nontaxonomic groups. Plant and Soil 159:47-59.
  • Bentivenga, S.P. and Morton, J.B. 1994. Systematics of endomycorrhizal fungi in the Glomales: Current views and future directions. pp. 283-307 In: Mycorrhizae and Plant Health (F. Pfleger and R. Linderman, eds.). American Phytopathological Society Press, St. Paul, MN.
  • Morton, J.B., Franke, M., and Bentivenga, S.P. 1994. Developmental foundations for morphological diversity among endomycorrhizal fungi in Glomales (Zygomycetes). pp. 669-683 In: Mycorrhiza: Structure, Function, Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (B. Hock and A. Varma, eds.). Springer-Verlag, Berlin.
  • Morton, J.B., Bentivenga, S.P., and Wheeler, W.W. 1993. Germ plasm in the International Collection of Arbuscular and Vesicular-arbuscular mycorrhizal Fungi (INVAM) and procedures for culture development, documentation and storage. Mycotaxon 48: 491-528.
  • Bentivenga, S.P. and Hetrick, B.A.D. 1992. Mycorrhizal activity in cool- and warm-season grasses in tallgrass prairie. Can. J. Bot. 70:1596-1602.
  • Bentivenga, S.P. and Hetrick, B.A.D. 1992. Effects of prairie management practices on mycorrhizal symbiosis. Mycologia 84: 522-527.
  • Bentivenga, S.P. and Hetrick, B.A.D. 1991. Glomus mortonii sp. nov., a previously undescribed species in the Glomaceae isolated from the tallgrass prairie in Kansas. Mycotaxon 42:9-15.
  • Bentivenga, S.P. and Hetrick, B.A.D. 1991. Relationship between mycorrhizal activity, burning, and plant productivity in tallgrass prairie. Can. J. Bot. 69:2597-2602.

Current Students in My Lab

  • Jacob Dickmann
  • Amber All

Recent Students in My Lab

  • Jeremiah Henning, M.S. Candidate
  • Casey Robers, B.S.
  • Stephanie Loehr, B.S. 2008 (presently at Penn State University)
  • Alexsia Richards, B.S. 2007 (presently at Milwaukee Medical College)

Mycological and Mycorrhizal Links of Interest