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Study author Kayla Martinez-Soto takes GPS coordinates of burrows in the PIE-LTER.

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Fiddler crab, Minuca pugnax, from Rowley, Massachusetts, which is within the PIE-LTER. This crab, no larger than the size of your thumb, is easily identified as a male due to the presence of its large claw. The small claw is used for eating, while the large claw is used for competition among males. These large claws can account for up to 40% of the crab’s mass, yet they aren’t strong enough to cause harm.

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Spartina alterniflora dominates the lower-elevations of salt marshes in the eastern United States. Living within its tissues are many fungal endophytes, which Kylea and Mya cultured.

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Fungal cultures sorted by morphotypes. Petri dishes with the same growth characteristics are stacked together. Higher stacks are common morphotypes, while short stacks are more rare morphotypes. Roughly, the samples cultured by Kylea and Mya follow the “few common, many rare” pattern of biodiversity; only a few morphotypes are stacked tall, while most are spread out across the lab bench in short (or single) stacks.

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A particularly charismatic fungus. At its edges, you can see the fungal hyphae (the branching filaments of a fungus that grow outward) reaching out into the agar to colonize more space. For a culture like this, Kylea and Mya would note things like the color, color gradient, fuzzy but smooth texture, and generally round shape.

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Kylea (left) and Mya (right) discuss how to classify a specific culture.

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Kylea shows two fungal cultures of the same morphotype. These beigey-gray, wrinkly fungus, will be stacked together. Later, they will confirm that they are the same species with genetic testing.

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Mya reviews fungal trait data from the last several weeks to problem-solve a contaminated culture.