Disruption… It’s all part of the plan.

The most recent blog from the Colorado Mycoflora project mentioned a “Big Move”. We’ll here’s some clarification as to what that means. As you may well know, the Colorado Mycoflora Project is run through the Sam Mitchel Herbarium of Fungi, which is part of the Department of Research and Conservation at Denver Botanic Gardens. The Department is currently gearing up to move into new digs in March of 2020. The department and its associated herbaria/fungaria (Kathryn Krebel Herbarium and the Sam Mitchel Herbarium of Fungi) have had to deal with more than it’s fair share of disruption over the past couple months in effort to move into this shiny new place…

Part of the disruption involved dealing with breaking down, packing up and moving the conservation genetics laboratory into the herbarium. To pack up the lab, the department worked in shifts to box up and organize laboratory equipment and supplies. Items that weren’t critical for continued research over the next several months, were carefully packaged and labeled for offsite storage. Everything that is needed to get population genetics and molecular systematic data for plants and fungi has found a home in the herbarium.

To fit the lab into the herbarium, a lot organization needed to take place, and a lot of space that was previously held supplies for specimen processing had to be repurposed. One of the big tasks for us was sorting and packing all of the mycological literature. Some of it was old books. But there was also Orson Miller’s Gasteromycete literature that he donated to the Mitchel Fungarium. In addition were old, unpublished manuscripts by Alexander Smith. Much of this will be archived and available through the DBG library for future study.

Now that the lab has been set up, we’ve been focusing on preparing the herbarium for the big move. We’ve been imaging the fungal collections for insurance purposes, and we’re also strategizing the reorganizing of the collections to reflect systematic relationships in fungi. Our new facilities will be exciting to break in, but the transition will be extreme. The herbarium will be moved above ground, from relative obscurity, to front and center in the new building. In fact, as soon as you walk in the front door of the Freyer-Newman center in the large atrium, the herbarium is positioned directly in front of you (see image below). The laboratory space will be on the second floor. It will more than double in size, with a superior space for conservation genetics, and a brand new ecology lab.

It’s a very busy and very exciting time for us. In a few months, I’ll start sharing our first experiences.

Andy…

What’ve we been up to?..

It’s been over 11 months since our last post. Where have we been? What have we been doing all this time?

The answer is, a lot… 2019 has been an extremely active year and here are a few of the details:

  • Andy (me) celebrated his 2nd work anniversary in January.
  • In May, Andy went to Salt Lake City to visit Bryn Dentinger at the Natural History Museum of Utah.
  • In May we also said goodbye to Dr. Melissa Islam, the Head Curator at Denver Botanic Gardens. She set off to a new life in Idaho and Seattle, WA with her family. She’s been missed.
  • Early June took Andy to Rachel Koch’s wedding in Minneapolis. There he got to reunite with Cathie Aime and other members of her lab.
  • Right after the wedding Andy took his annual pilgrimage to the Sierra Nevada Field Campus and the Spring Fungi course.
    • Seriously consider taking this course if you are interested in “leveling up” your mushroom ID skills.
  • Justin Loucks started as a summer seasonal employee, helping generate and organize DNA sequence data for the Colorado Mycoflora Project.
  • June was also busy writing the NSF CAREER proposal for the Colorado Mycoflora Project. This was important because the proposal was due on July 17th, and this was important because…
  • July 15-19, Andy took part in the Workshop to Enhance Collaboration Between US and Indonesia in Biodiversity and Conservation Research in Bogor, Indonesia.
  • During the trip Andy got to reconnect with fellow mycologists in the region, Atik Retnowati, Jaya Seelan, Dr Viki, Tan Yee Shin, and Agnes Chan.
    • This story will be on the travel blog too, whenever Andy gets around to it.
  • Early August Vera and Andy returned to ACES to teach their Mushroom ID course.
    • Andy got tricked seeing double…
The Meyers sisters (Phebe and Nika, which is which?) are enjoying Andy’s confusion waaaay too much.
(Good thing they’re wearing name tags!)
  • After ACES, Andy went to the Adirondacks in upstate, New York for the North American Mycological Association’s Meeting at Paul Smith’s.
  • Before the end of the NAMA meeting, Andy had to fly back to Denver for the CMS Mushroom Festival on August 11th.
    • The Fair Identifier this year was Dr. Andrew Methven. We had a great time and went for Ethiopian food after the fair.
Enjoying a post CMS Fair meal at Queen of Sheeba. L-R: ???, Justin Loucks, and Andrew Methven.
  • Rick Levy and Andy then left two days later for the Telluride Mushroom Festival. They took a few days after the festival to travel down the Million Dollar Highway and collect in the San Juan Mountains and Rio Grande National Forests. They came back with nearly 200 collections.
  • Gary Olds started his Ph.D. program at University of Colorado Denver.
  • Andy finished out the month of August by celebrating his parent’s 50th anniversary with them and friends in California.
  • At the end of August and into early September the Research and Conservation Department at DBG began interviewing for the Head Curator position.
  • September was a lot of organizing, packing and moving the lab into the herbarium.
    • More details on this to come.
  • The Sam Mitchel Herbarium had to temporarily say goodbye to their volunteers as we prepare for the big move.

And the year isn’t over. I very much want to keep up with the blogging and updating the website with content so stay tuned for more to come.

Whether or not I get my wish, we’ll have to see.
Andy out…

EDIT 10/6/2019: Some other details that were left out.

  • In May, Rock Canyon High School students Andrew Hines, Camden Meyer, and Jason McDonald sampled tissues from Russula specimens for their 2019-2020 Biotechnology class project.
    • The students presented their project to teachers and parents in September.
  • Caroline Hildebrand put together her master’s thesis proposal using GPS to develop diversity models for predicting habitats for macrofungi in the Southern Rockies.

Putting in work…

Thomas Jenkinson digging out a particularly picturesque Amanita gemmata

It’s been a while since the last post. A lot has happened between now and then and I’d like to take this opportunity to share what we’ve been up to. Understandably, after our successful crowdfunding campaign in August we took a “break” in September to take stock of everything that had happened. If you’re not already familiar with the details:

  • Our first weekend in August took Vera and I to Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, as well as Sam Mitchel’s old ranch in Edwards CO. For that trip we were in the awesome company of Dr. Henry Beker, his colleague Linda Davies, and our good friend Amy Honan from Western States Colorado University. Here’s the post of that trip for deets.
  • The second weekend was the CMS Fair with Michael Kuo. Post1. Post2. It was also the week we implemented a new protocol for processing mushrooms.
  • Week three took us to the Telluride Mushroom Festival. A lot of fun. Looking forward to next August.
  • The last weekend of August I went to Red River, NM to visit and mingle with the New Mexico Mycological Society at their annual foray.

In September we started to tackle our specimens gathered from August. We did this by implementing a new protocol that I’ll discuss in a bit more detail in another blog. We also did a few extra forays, but perhaps the most memorable was the filming I did with Ed and Ikuko Lubow for the PBS show Urban Conversion. Whether or not we produced anything worth putting on television we’ll all have to wait until April when the new season comes out. That being said, I think we all had a great time collecting and talking about the importance of fungi.

A form of black truffle (probably Tuber aestivum) thinly sliced with a form of matsutake (probably Tricholoma magnivelare) with pine nuts and drizzled with a balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Accompanied with a sweet desert wine like a port. I’ll have to get Micheal from Cafe Marie-Jeanne, Chicago, to clarify for me.

October turned into another busy month of mycology and travel.  The first weekend of the month I made my annual pilgrimage to Chicago to visit with friends and to take part in the festive trek around Chicago’s many neighborhoods, AKA the Chicago Marathon. One nice visit was to my friend Michael Simmons’ restaurant Cafe Marie-Jeanne. It’s relevant given the fungal inspired charcuterie plate we had there. [SHOUT OUT TO MIKE!]
I also was able to make a visit my old home, the Chicago Botanic Garden and sit down with Greg Mueller to chat about project ideas.

After Chicago I headed to Salem Oregon for the North American Mycological Association annual foray. This year was my first as the official Voucher Coordinator. The experience turned out well. Largely thanks to an excellent vouchering crew. The Voucher Committee is lead by Voucher Chair Patrick Leacock, myself, then Wyatt Gasswick, and Bruch Reed. Along for the experience was a great group of student assistants that included Stephen Russel (Purdue University, and North American Mycoflora Project), Christin Swearingen (U. Alaska – Fairbanks), Elise O’Brien (Lane Community College, Eugene OR), Chance Noffsinger (Montana State University), and not least, former CBG alumnus Nik Desai who conveniently resides in Portland.

With these folks, and the excellent contributions of the NAMA foray participants, we were able to make upwards of 330 collections, with a number of lichen species that had yet to be added to the total. All told we expect there to be over 350 collections – and nearly as many species – during an event that was supposedly held too early in the season. But I guess that’s what the Pacific Northwest is like for mushroom hunting. A “slow” year here would be considered a boon nearly anywhere else on the continent.

Voucher Assistant Elise O’Brien helps a NAMA member recall important voucher information from the foray while other participants diligently fill out their specimen labels.

Now that we’re back, more or less, we’ve been accessioning this year’s collections using new accessioning protocols. I’ve also been courting our volunteers and students to contribute to this blog.  Next month I hope to highlight some of the new protocols and perhaps introduce a schedule of topics you’ll be seeing in the future.

With this, I’ll wish you a Happy Thanksgiving chocked full of mushroom infused stuffing and gravy!  Cheers…

We did it!… Now what?

We hit our fundraising goal on Experiment.com.  BUT!!! We still have about 1.5 days before the clock runs out at midnight on August 31st. As is mentioned on our crowdfunding page, the $5000 we intended to raise would cover approximately 20-25% of our 5-year goal to sequence 1000 species of macrofungi from the Southern Rockies. Any money we get in excess of this will add opportunity and flexibility towards this 5-year goal. And note that this 1000 species is only about half of the known diversity in the Southern Rockies, much less than that of the total possible diversity. So regardless, there’s still a long way to go.

Apart from DNA sequencing, what else can we use the money for?  Well a big part of this project is to study the morphology of these organisms.  The DNA sequence data should be considered a roadmap of sorts. A metaphorical bread crumb trail that leads us to a better interpretation of what the different mushroom species are.  However, it’s better for everyone involved if we could provide field guides and tools that allow people to identify different species directly from their morphology.  For this we will need to examine many collections from macro- AND micromorphological perspectives.

So, additional funding will allow us to purchase tackle boxes, and other collecting gear.  We will also upgrade our tools for microscopy (finer forceps, additional cover slips, reagents to test reactions on mushrooms, etc.). And as we grow the collections, we will need more bin and specimen boxes to appropriately catalog and store the fungi.

Also, the money from crowdfunding will free up funds from our endowments, allowing us more opportunities to bring in visiting scientists who have expertise in fungi relevant to the Southern Rockies. And while this crowdfunding campaign will come to a close, we will still be accepting donations from people wanting to support the Project. However, we will mostly be focusing our energies in acquiring additional funding through grants that will support summer internships, as well as collecting and producing DNA sequence data.

So in the upcoming months, we’ll be sorting and identifying the collections and figuring out the next steps for the Project.  Check back periodically to see what’s going on.

Cheers!

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Working hard in the Sam Mitchel Herbarium of Fungi to describe, document, and process the season’s collections. L-R Vera Evenson, Trina Wilson, Ed Lubow, Ikuko Lubow (in purple shirt), Linnea Gillman.

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Ikuko with a Laccaria with an exceptionally long stipe. We’re toying with the idea that it’s L. longipes but this species is from bogs in upstate Wisconsin/upper peninsula Michigan. DNA sequencing will help us sort it out.

 

2018 Telluride Mushroom Festival and the Colorado Mycoflora Project

The Telluride Mushroom Festival is a destination for both the grounded, and more ethereal mushroom enthusiast. While it has a history of catering to the latter, one thing that is true about the festival is that everyone in attendance is united by their affection for these organisms.

If you’ve spent any time exploring this website, you may have come across our About page. Telluride is located in the Southwestern portion of Colorado, and the map provided on the above page demonstrates that we have a lot of work to do to better represent the mushroom diversity in this part of the state.  This makes the Telluride Mushroom Festival a great opportunity for us, and also a great opportunity to expose the Festival’s community to this project and what we can learn from it.

Along with several other academic mycologists, Andy was invited down to help promote the Colorado Mycoflora Project through the coordination of a voucher program, providing a seminar on the project, and sitting down on a discussion panel on the theme of, “Mycology in the Molecular Biology Era … For Beginners and Citizen Scientists“. Every event was well attended and well received. There seemed to be a lot of enthusiasm for the Project, as well as curiosity in the what, why, and how of the approach to studying fungal biodiversity.

Several speakers gave excellent talks about the world of mycological research. Our own Rick Levy gave a great talk on the importance of making scientifically relevant mushroom collections. Jeff Ravage gave a talk on his mycoremediation project. Poor guy had to compete for attention against Paul Stametes who was also giving a lecture at that time, but he got a decent turnout regardless. Cathie Aime gave two talks. The first one captivated the audience with stories of her mushroom adventures in the wilderness of Guyana. The second seminar focused on the fascinating biology of the rust fungi. And perhaps the most spectacular academic lecture I’ve ever witnessed was given by David Hibbett, who for his talk channeled the ghost of Theophrastus, the “father of botany”. In his talk he regaled us with mycology’s origins as an aspect of botany. He also demonstrated that we are all somewhat guilty of “ladder thinking” when we attempt to evaluate and categorize different forms of life. David gave a second seminar that was equally well received, the subject of which fed into a demonstration he gave showing how different phenotypic forms of fungi are distributed through the fungal tree of life.

As for the vouchering program that the Colorado Mycoflora Project intended to implement at Telluride, this remains a work in progress.  For one, our (=my) idea of implementing a protocol much like we had at the CMS Fair the week prior, will not really work well in this environment. We’ll likely need to resort to a more traditional format where individuals go out on individual forays and either recruit other festival attendees, sympathetic to our efforts, or provide focused forays with the intent to make collections for the Project. Another issue was how dry Telluride was for the Festival.  The ID tent had mostly bare tables.  While people were able to make collections on their forays, many of the specimens were in poor shape.  It was also challenging to get the necessary collection information from those that dropped off their specimens. This is likely a communication issue that we can do better on, and something we plan to aggressively address for future forays and festivals. Regardless, we were able to return to DBG with well over 60 collections, with the count still climbing.

A special thanks to all the folks at the Festival that helped with the vouchering and supporting the Project: Brian Barzee (you rock! sir.), ever stalwart Amy Honan, Eddie Elzarian, Alisha Quandt, Linnea Gillman, Bill Adams, Jeff Ravage, Rick Levy, Cathie Aime, David Hibbett, Mike Wood, Giuliana Furci, Trina Wilson, Bruch Reed, and John Plishke.

 

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Theophrastus possessed the body of David Hibbett and regaled the Telluride community on the history of mycology since ancient Greece.

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Cathie Aime’s second talk of the festival educated on the complicated yet charismatic nature of the rust fungi.

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Making relevant scientific collections is the goal of the Colorado Mycoflora Project, and we’re lucky to have Rick Levy help explain its importance to enthusiastic citizen scientists.

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Panel discussion on the topic: Mycology in the Molecular Biology Era … For Beginners and Citizen Scientists. From L-R: Rick Levy, Andy Wilson, John Pleschki, Cathie Aime, David Hibbett, Mike Wood, and moderator Giuliana Furci.

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David holding court discussing the evolution of mushrooms, corals, puffballs, and other forms of macrofungi.

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Amy Honan and Eddie Elzarian at work processing Telluride mushroom specimens.

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L-R: Rick Levy, Amy Honan, Andy Wilson, Alisha Quandt, Cathie Aime, David Hibbett.

Colorado Mycological Society 2018 Mushroom Fair: THE AFTERMATH!

Whew! Whatta weekend. This year’s Colorado Mycological Society fair saw a record crowd.  Over 2200 people walked through the doors of Mitchell Hall at Denver Botanic Gardens. While by all external measures indicating this year to be a dry year, we still managed to collect the metadata of: collector ID, date, location, and, to some degree, habitat and lat/long coordinates, for over 550 collections of macrofungi in two days.

I have to give a big thanks to our fair identifier, Dr. Michael Kuo.  That man was a machine, providing identifications for 286 specimens. This production took place from 1 pm on Saturday until late into the evening, and continued on early Sunday until he had to leave around 2pm to catch his flight.

The preliminary count stands at 141 species of macrofungi that came through the fair. We stress this number as ‘preliminary’ because it includes all of the specimens identified as ‘sp.’, which were counted only once per genus, and for several genera there were many specimens identified only to ‘sp.’. This include Cortinarius and Russula, each having 26 specimens identified as ‘sp.’, and genera such as Inocybe and Galerina, which had 7 and 6 respectively.

The ‘star’ of the fair (perhaps ignominiously) was a rather putrid species of Gautieria which produce these intense phenolic compounds that are reminiscent of some strong petroleum like chemical, or a rather pungent cheese.  In describing this fungus to the public, and it’s design to attract rodents as vectors of spore dispersal, I’d say I came across equal numbers of people who found the smell either pleasant or disgusting.

In the end, we collected a subset of all of these specimens for vouchering in the Sam Mitchel Herbarium of Fungi. While we would love to have captured more of the diversity, a combination of rotting specimens, insufficient quality of the collection (too few representatives), and need for better coordination prevented us from capturing a better cross section of what came through the fair. However, in terms of documenting the meta data for each of the specimens, I think our efforts were a great success.  I’m already looking forward to next year to up our game even more!

Acknowledgements: A big thank you to our guest fair identifier, Dr. Michael Kuo. You sir set a standard that is hard to beat! Big ups to fellow Colorado Mycoflora Project comrade, Amy Honan who came all the way over from Crested Butte to help out at the fair. To the Colorado Mycological Society for putting on yet another smashing event. Also grateful for the amazing help of Trina Wilson, Michael McKibben, Danila Romanov, Ed and Ikuko Lubow, Linda Plessinger, Ellen Jacobson, and Eddie Elzarian.

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The Gautieria that ‘funked’ up the herbarium with its petroleum/cheesy odor. Fortunately only a few of us were exposed to its funk when fresh. Dried it was still odorous, but much more tolerable.

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Some amazing Laccaria collections came through the Fair.

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The Fair is also a good place to recruit future mycologists.

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L-R: Michael Kuo, Amy Honan, Vera Evenson, Andrew Wilson.

Colorado Mycoflora Project at the CMS Fair

As I write this on Saturday, August 11th, were in the midst of setting up for the Colorado Mycological Society’s Mushroom Fair at Denver Botanic Gardens. This year the CMS has brought in Dr Michael Kuo of Mushroomexpert.com as the Fair’s resident identifier.

This year’s Fair is particularly exciting because it’s the first year that we’re promoting the Colorado Mycoflora Project. Hopefully we’ll be able to find new donors for our crowdfunding efforts. We’re also giving a trial run to a new method of processing specimens. With the ability to use barcodes and a scanner, we’re working to digitize all of the metadata for every specimen that enters the Fair.  While we won’t accession every collection into the herbarium, this technique should provide us with invaluable collections level data for the overall Colorado Mycoflora Project.

Stay tuned to learn more about our progress.

Now, BACK TO WORK!

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Specimen information forms and slips with fair ID numbers and barcodes.

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Saturday morning gathering of the team. Getting energized and ready to set up for the fair and process 100’s of specimens.

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Processing specimens for Sunday’s fair on Saturday. Amy Honan in the foreground. Vera and Michael Kuo at the Identification Table in the background.

Why Fungi?

Plants are at the pinnacle of terrestrial life and the energy they harness from sunlight flows down to every other land-dwelling organism on the planet. What is often taken for granted is that plants, as we know them, would not exist without fungi. Fungi are essential to ecosystem health. They are critical symbionts that help plants grow. They help to such an extent that they make trees possible. Think about that. Trees would not be able to achieve the sizes they do without essential nutrients supplied to them by their fungal partners. In addition, the massive amounts of structural tissue that plants produce in the form of cellulose cannot be metabolized by the vast majority of organisms. Fungi, on the other hand, are the planet’s most efficient decomposers of plant-based carbohydrate, converting an otherwise indigestible molecule into nutritious fungal matter, and providing critical resources for other organisms in the ecosystem’s food web.

The Colorado Mycoflora Project is a regional contributor to the North American Mycoflora Project.  The more than 2,300 species of Colorado macrofungi accessioned in the Sam Mitchel Herbarium of Fungi represents a small fraction of the diversity likely found in the Southern Rockies. Through greater regional sampling and the use of DNA sequence data this project will provide knowledge and educational opportunities about the diversity of macrofungi of the Southern Rocky Mountains.

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