cathy cripps

Cathy Cripps

Associate Professor, PhD from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Office: 309 Plant BioScience Building
Lab: 109 Plant BioScience Building

Office Phone: 406-994-5226
Lab Phone: 406-994-7621

Fax: 406-994-7600


Our lab examines basic and applied aspects of higher fungi, particularly in extreme environments such as the alpine life zone and high-elevation forests. Currently we are focused on the ectomycorrhizal fungi associated with whitebark pine and the biodiversity of alpine fungi in the Rocky Mountains. Whitebark pine forests are in serious decline in the West due to blister rust and mountain pine beetles. We are currently discovering the native mycorrhizal fungi associated with this 5-needle pine and examining the benefits of inoculating seedlings with these native mycorrhizal fungi.

The arctic-alpine biome covers 10% of the earth’s land, and is considered to be at great risk from global warming and disturbance. This includes all land within the Arctic Circle and the true alpine above treeline on high mountain tops. Fungi in this extreme climate must withstand freezing temperatures, high UV light, a short growing season, and persistent desiccating winds. Fungi are a crucial ecological link in these inhospitable climes. Plants depend on alpine mycorrhizal root fungi for survival. Saprophytic fungi somehow manage to complete the work of decomposition and recycling of nutrients into the soil despite the extreme conditions. To date we have catalogued over 200 species of alpine agarics, primarily species of Inocybe, Cortinarius, Entoloma, Galerina, Russlula, and Lactarius. In addition, we are examining the mycorrhizal fungi with dwarf Salix andDryas, and adaptations of alpine fungi with broad-ranging implications for cold-tolerance in plants.

Previous research has focused on the ectomycorrhizal fungi in aspen forests. Aspen (Populus tremuloides) has declined by over 50% in the western US in recent years and is of great interest to forest managers. Over 50 species of mycorrhizal fungi occur with aspen in the Rocky Mountain region and a certain set have been found on the Anaconda Superfund site. Our research has shown that many of these mycorrhizal fungi stimulate aspen growth in vitro and have potential for use in high elevation reclamation.


As the singular classically trained mycologist in Montana, my research is on basic and applied aspects of fungi in managed and natural systems, including fungal systematics and identification, MSU president’s list of experts, identification for the Plant Diagnostic Lab, consultant on mushroom poisoning cases; research includes NSF survey of cold-adapted alpine fungi, specialty mushroom farming in MT, and use of mycorrhizal fungi in reclamation; curator MONT fungal herbarium; teaching BIOM 423 (Mycology), and Biology 256 (Biology: Cells to Organisms), BIOE 424 (Ecology of Fungi), PSPP 580 (Advanced Mycology), graduate and undergraduate advising.


  • B.S. School of Natural Resources University of Michigan
  • M.S. Biology (Mycology) Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI) 1993
  • Ph.D. Biology (Mycology) Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI) 1995


  • Mycological Society of America
  • North American Mycological Society
  • International Society of Mycorrhizasists
  • Montana Academy of Science


  • Mycological Society of America
    • Biodiversity Committee
    • Amateur Liaison Committee
  • North American Mycological Society
    • Trustee
    • Chief Mycologist 2010, 2008, 2006
  • International Society of Mycorrhizasists
  • Southwest Montana Mycological Association
  • Editiorial Editor, Fungi Magazine
  • Associate Editor, North American Fungi Journal
  • Review editor: Botany, Mycologia, Sydowia, Mycological Research, Mycorrhiza, Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine Research, etc.
  • Grant proposal Reviewer: National Science Foundation, occasional panel member, USDA/CREES, International Organization for Scientific Research
  • Fungal Identification for Plant Diagnostic Clinic, researchers, public
  • Workshops/lectures for Mycological Societies, ID, MT, CO, WA, ORE,CA, NC, VA, MN, Canada
  • MT Ag Live Appearances


  • Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology Promotion and Tenure Committee
  • HHMI Hughes Biology Curriculum Committee
  • Graduate student committees, MSU


  • NAFTA Teaching Excellence Award, Montana State Univ, College of Agriculture, PSPP, 2002.
  • Martin-Baker Endowment Research Award, Mycological Society of America, 1996
  • Graduate Student Teaching Excellence Award, Virginia Polytech (VPI), 1994.




  • Working Together to Restore Terrestrial Ecosystem: Use of Native Mycorrhizal fungi to restore Whitebark pine in Waterton Lakes- Glacier Park International Peace Park: Restoration of Whitebark and Limber pine using Native Ectomycorrhizal Fungi. $120,000. 
  • Inoculation of Whitebark Pine Seedlings for Restoration. Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation. USDA Forest Service. $30,000.
  • Alpine Mycota (Agaricales): Rocky Mountain Tundra, USA, National Science Foundation Grant, 1999 to 2003, $212,000, PI (Cripps), coPI (Horak, Geobotanik Institute, Zurich).
  • Specialty Mushroom Farming in Montana, Research and Commercialization Grant, $144,000,
  • Mycorrhizae of Whitebark pine: ecological and applied aspects in relation to fire and restoration. USDA FS Grant, Fire Ecology.


Graduate Students and Lab Researchers

  • Dr. Todd Osmundson, M.Sc.  Morphological and molecular systematics of Rocky Mountains alpine Laccaria
  • Christopher Mahony. M.Sc. 2005. Effects of native ectomycorrhizal fungi on aspen seedlings in greenhouse studies: inoculation methods, fertilizer regimes, and plant uptake of selected elements in smelter-impacted soils.  Soil Conservation, Bureau of Land Management, Montana.
  • Kate Mohatt. M.Sc. Ectomycorrhizal fungi of whitebark pine in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  Prince William Sound Zone Ecologist, USFS Glacier Ranger District, Girdwood, Alaska. Coordinator for Girdwood Mushroom Fungus Fair.
  • Paul E Trusty. M.Sc. Impact of severe fire on the ectomycorrhizal fungi of whitebark pine seedlings. NSF GK-12 Fellowship.
  • Erin Lonergan. Currently working on Monitoring of whitebark pine seedlings inoculated with native ectomycorrhizal fungi.
  • Dr. Joo-Young Cha (Post Doc) from Hokkaido University, Japan. Snowbank Fungi.
  • Dr. Eva Grimme (Post Doc) from Montana State University. Inoculation of whitebark pine seedlings.
  • Dr. Bob Antibus (Sabbatical) from Bluffton University, Ohio. Physiology of the native ectomycorrhizal fungi from whitebark pine limber pine forests in Montana.