BioBlitz

Fungi

 

Cayuga Nature Center   Smith Woods   Total species found
  6 7     7 0   1 7

 

The kingdom of fungi is incredibly diverse and found in almost every habitat on earth. Fungi have been around for about 1 billion years. Fungi include molds, yeasts, mushrooms, truffles, conks, and all kinds of plant disease organisms, like powdery mildews and blights.

Fungi aren’t related to plants, they are much more closely related to you! Our moist temperature climate supports a wide variety of fungi. How many? We have no idea. There’s no definitive list of fungi in our region, or in New York state. Cornell has had a mycologist on staff since the earliest days of the university, and that is reflected in the rich holdings of the Cornell Plant Pathology Herbarium (CUP) which has 300,000 specimens of fungi as well as thousands of photographs, the majority of them local to our region. They can be searched through the CUP website. We haven’t found everything that lives around here. 

In 2017 the Hodge lab was part of finding and naming a completely new genus and species of fungi in Ithaca - one that kills millipedes (Hodge, Hajek & Gryganskyi 2017).

Fungi live most of the time as mycelium – branching filamentous cells as fine as spiderweb, with outer cell walls made of chitin, with cell contents similar to humans. Most fungi make spores and fruiting bodies that are too small to see without a microscope. Coprinus disseminatus is a lawn mushroom that pops up in astounding numbers. Its lovely little fruiting bodies aren’t damaging the lawn – underground their mycelium is breaking down the dead roots of a nearby tree. Soon they'll spread their spores on the wind. Our moist temperature climate supports a wide variety of fungi. How many? We have not idea. There’s no definitive list of fungi in our region, or in New York state. Cornell has had a mycologist on staff since the earliest days of the university, and that is reflected in the rich holdings of the Cornell Plant Pathology Herbarium (CUP) which has 300,000 specimens of fungi as well as thousands of photographs, the majority of them local to our region. They can be searched through the CUP website. We haven’t found everything that lives around here. In 2017 the Hodge lab was part of finding and naming a completely new genus and species of fungi in Ithaca - one that kills millipedes (Hodge, Hajek & Gryganskyi 2017). 2189 new species of fungi were discovered and described last year alone! 

Methods

Team Mycology went out into the woods with baskets and looked for the fruiting bodies that we know as mushrooms. This method of counting dramatically undercounts the fungi that are present because mushrooms are only the ephemeral fruits of fungal colonies which spend most of the year in the substrate. Within their substrate, fungi are slowly growing and digesting logs, dead leaves, or soil (in the case of saprobes), or living in connection with their plant hosts by swapping water and nutrients for sugars made by the plant through photosynthesis. Most fungal species have a favorite season for producing their fruiting bodies, and since the spores need water for dispersal and growth, fungi typically fruit as soon as there is sufficient moisture, which is why a few days after rain we often see a flush of mushrooms. During the BioBlitz, conditions were dry, so the counts of fungi were low. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t there!

Those who find cinnabar chanterelles think first of the frying pan. But these small mushrooms play an essential role in forests. They grow only in partnership with trees, providing nutrients and water in exchange for sugars made by the tree. The networks created by this and other mycorrhizal fungi also allow trees to communicate about pests and diseases along invisible networks of fungal strands. This mutual dependency is a tree's best kept secret, and we feel it is even more amazing than the taste of these mushrooms atop a mound of pasta.

A 24-hour BioBlitz will inherently result in a skewed sample of fungi, but it is fantastic for getting fungus-lovers together and spreading the word about fungi to citizens of all ages! Fungi interact with humans in so many ways: food (edible mushrooms, soy sauce, cheeses, tempeh, etc), fuel (yeasts make ethanol), medicines (penicillin, lovastatin, cyclosporine etc.), plant pathogens, human diseases, mycotoxins, allergens. 

Participants

Team Lead was Kathie Hodge, Associate Professor in the Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section of Cornell’s School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS) whose work focuses on fungal biodiversity, especially of pathogens of insects, and molds that spoil food. The team also included, among others, SUNY-Cortland Professor Tim Baroni, members of Cornell’s mushroom club the Fantastic Fungi Fanatics, a sharp-eyed middle schooler, other avid mushroom hunters, and Megan Biango-Daniels. Megan recently completed her Cornell PhD on a mold that attacks apples and spoils canned foods. Along the way Megan also discovered that molds routinely contaminate commercial sea salts. Now she’s a postdoctoral fellow at Tufts University.