The Race Goes on: May Day Mushroom Madness

Hello, folks. The blog is now up, thanks to the gang at WildlifeDirect. These postings will be somewhat retrospective as the first team has been on the islands for nearly three weeks already. Also, internet connections are very slow here (Principe, at the moment), but I will do my best. I notice we already have a response on the forum from a woman named Theresa, but I will have to learn how to respond later.

The GG III team: Perry, Wenk, Desjardin, Eckerman, Drewes, Daniel on Principe.

Macambrara, Sao Tome.  RCD photo GGIII
Six of us arrived about three weeks ago, we were joined last week by a 7th and here’s what some of us have been up to:

As leader of the GG expeditions I have been very excited to have our first botanists join an expedition: Dr. Tom Daniel, and his graduate student, Rebecca Wenck from CAS. Also particularly important to our goals has been the return to the islands of a mycologist (or in this case, two of them): Drs. Dennis Desjardin and post-doctoral fellow Brian Perry of San Francisco State University. I try to recruit scientists who study plant or animal groups that are poorly known in the Gulf of Guinea, and herein lies a story:

Cookeina speciosa
At the time of our second expedition (GG II) in 2006, there were only four species of mushrooms known from the Island of Sao Tome, and no one had ever explored the smaller, much older Principe for mushrooms (or cugumelos, as they are known here). Dennis Desjardin, a world mushroom authority was kind enough to join us for the first two weeks of GG II. At the end of his two weeks, Dennis had made 98 collections of at least 80 species of perhaps 40 genera of mushrooms, all from Sao Tome!

Cyptotrama asprata
Needless to say, I was delighted to find this unanticipated level of diversity! Now, imagine how I felt two weeks later when, sitting in the steamy internet bar in Sao Tome, I read an email message from Dennis telling me that his luggage (and the mushrooms) had first been lost in Lisbon, and then later misdirected to the US through Newark, NJ instead of San Francisco where our institution is located. In Newark an agricultural/customs officer pulled the specimens out and promptly destroyed them (in spite of the permits, conspicuous labels, etc. on all of the packages). A devastating loss. I told this story in a public lecture a year ago, and thanks to the generosity of three private individuals in the audience, a grant from CAS and support from SCD we are back!

Part of our mission has been to recoup our mushroom losses from Sao Tome and to conduct the first survey of cugumelos on Principe. At time of writing, the whole team has walked up and down mountainous jungle trails from sea level to 1280 meters on Sao Tome, and with logistic support we did not have during GG I (2001) and GG II we have explored every accessible habitat type on Principe, once by boat. Turns out mushrooms grow in a lot of different habitats including not far from the high tide line on beaches.

Leucocoprinus sp.

Favolaschia thwaitesii


Calyptella sp.
Dennis and Brian tell me that the overall count of mushroom species so far, including both islands, is 220! We have 75 carefully dried and preserved specimens from Principe alone- this will be the first list ever. The number 220 includes some 30 species collected during GG II but not yet recollected during GG III. Every time I get really excited, Dennis and Brian are quick to say, “ Bob, this is only a snapshot in time! A couple of months from now, there may be a whole different group of cugumelos here.” It is way to early to tell what half of this stuff is, but Brian and Dennis were particularly excited about four mushrooms that were not expected in the Gulf of Guinea at all – these are ectomicorrhyzal (sp?); i. e. they form associations with living plants. Stay tuned.
Dr Dennis Desjardin on the hunt. Weckerphoto. GGIII

Dr. Brian Perry also hunting. Weckerphoto, GGIII
Our botanists (Tom and Rebecca), and herpetologists (me and Josef Uyeda, who joined us last week) have our own projects as well and Wes Eckerman has been photographing everything we do, every specimen we collect. More anon.

The Administration.  R. Wenk photo.  GGIII

PARTNERS We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Research Investment Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement  (SCD) for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/ and especially the generosity of three private individuals, George F. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom and Timothy M. Muller, for making GG III possible.

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4 thoughts on “The Race Goes on: May Day Mushroom Madness”

  1. How exciting!!! I must venture out and say this (although it is very childish): There seems to be a fungus among us! 😀

    As a fellow microbiologist this is an extremely exciting discovery! Keep up the good work!

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  2. What amazing fungi! Thank you for these marvellous pictures – we live in such a wonderful world and we should look after it carefully.

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  3. One of the ectomycorrhizal mushrooms (a species of the genus Amanita) has arrived in New Jersey thanks to a loan from Dennis Desjardin at SFSU. I am beginning to review it. It’s spores are very small. This may mean that the spores are more likely to pass around tree trunks than to impact on them. Hence, they could be adapted to an environment in which groups of ectomycorrhizal symbionts are separated by some distance in the local forests.

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