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Fungi wanted for fungal library

To contribute specimens to the herbarium isn’t all fun and foraging

Morel mushroom (center)
Morel mushroom (center)

San Diego is so arid, it can leave mushroom hunters foraging for irrigation. Try parks and cemeteries, some suggest. Or go see local species on display at the annual Fungus Fair in Balboa Park on Sunday (February 15).

No one knows how many kinds of mushrooms there are in San Diego, what medicinal or other properties they may have, where they grow, or how they’re doing in a changing climate. It’s not just chefs who want to know.

“It is clearly a scientific question that needs answering — and one I’ve been enjoying trying to help answer,” says Dr. Mary Ann Hawke, a UCSD plant ecologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Hawke is working on a project to document the county’s mushrooms — part of an international effort to “barcode” species by sequencing their DNA.

San Diego has fewer kinds than elsewhere in North America due to the climate, she says. But even though the county yields fewer examples for the fungal library, Hawke says our unique habitats, especially arid lands, may support “some interesting or endemic species” that only grow in a limited range.

Mushrooms are the fruit of fungi, which belong to a kingdom of in-between organisms that share traits of both animals and plants and recycle nutrients through ecosystems. Fungi also provide antibiotics such as penicillin and other drugs.

The specimens found in San Diego will be entered in the International Barcode of Life database, which researchers say will revamp the field of conservation, providing a global reference library. Worldwide, only about 7 percent of fungi have been described.

San Diego may be a “biodiversity hotspot,” but the loss of habitat like vernal pools hasn’t been offset by listing any of its mushrooms as threatened or endangered, notes the website of the San Diego Floral Association

Hawke shares the task of cataloging species with members of the San Diego Citizen Science Network (which she helped found) and the San Diego Mycological Society, which hosts the Fungus Fair.

Local mushrooms are collected and preserved at the San Diego Natural History Museum. Currently, there are about 100 fungal specimens archived in the herbarium, she says. Far fewer have been prepared for barcoding.

“We've been trying in recent years to voucher some of the specimens brought in for our annual Fungus Fair,” Hawke says.

To contribute specimens to the herbarium isn’t all fun and foraging. Finding them is trickier than tracking down plants since mushrooms “are so ephemeral and dependent on weather,” Hawke says. And mushroom hunters don’t always want to share their secret locations.

After the samples have been identified, dried, and frozen to kill any pests, there’s data collection and entry, which includes the latitude and longitude where they were found.

“All that is currently being done on a volunteer basis,” Hawke says, mentioning another chore — fundraising to afford the specialized storage boxes, space, curation, and lab work.

To make the DNA barcoding effort cost-effective — because of specialized equipment and protocol — 96 samples must be collected and analyzed together. So far, they have samples from about 30 specimens that have been barcoded, Hawke says. Those bits of tissue now sit in the freezer “waiting until the rest are collected.”

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Morel mushroom (center)
Morel mushroom (center)

San Diego is so arid, it can leave mushroom hunters foraging for irrigation. Try parks and cemeteries, some suggest. Or go see local species on display at the annual Fungus Fair in Balboa Park on Sunday (February 15).

No one knows how many kinds of mushrooms there are in San Diego, what medicinal or other properties they may have, where they grow, or how they’re doing in a changing climate. It’s not just chefs who want to know.

“It is clearly a scientific question that needs answering — and one I’ve been enjoying trying to help answer,” says Dr. Mary Ann Hawke, a UCSD plant ecologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Hawke is working on a project to document the county’s mushrooms — part of an international effort to “barcode” species by sequencing their DNA.

San Diego has fewer kinds than elsewhere in North America due to the climate, she says. But even though the county yields fewer examples for the fungal library, Hawke says our unique habitats, especially arid lands, may support “some interesting or endemic species” that only grow in a limited range.

Mushrooms are the fruit of fungi, which belong to a kingdom of in-between organisms that share traits of both animals and plants and recycle nutrients through ecosystems. Fungi also provide antibiotics such as penicillin and other drugs.

The specimens found in San Diego will be entered in the International Barcode of Life database, which researchers say will revamp the field of conservation, providing a global reference library. Worldwide, only about 7 percent of fungi have been described.

San Diego may be a “biodiversity hotspot,” but the loss of habitat like vernal pools hasn’t been offset by listing any of its mushrooms as threatened or endangered, notes the website of the San Diego Floral Association

Hawke shares the task of cataloging species with members of the San Diego Citizen Science Network (which she helped found) and the San Diego Mycological Society, which hosts the Fungus Fair.

Local mushrooms are collected and preserved at the San Diego Natural History Museum. Currently, there are about 100 fungal specimens archived in the herbarium, she says. Far fewer have been prepared for barcoding.

“We've been trying in recent years to voucher some of the specimens brought in for our annual Fungus Fair,” Hawke says.

To contribute specimens to the herbarium isn’t all fun and foraging. Finding them is trickier than tracking down plants since mushrooms “are so ephemeral and dependent on weather,” Hawke says. And mushroom hunters don’t always want to share their secret locations.

After the samples have been identified, dried, and frozen to kill any pests, there’s data collection and entry, which includes the latitude and longitude where they were found.

“All that is currently being done on a volunteer basis,” Hawke says, mentioning another chore — fundraising to afford the specialized storage boxes, space, curation, and lab work.

To make the DNA barcoding effort cost-effective — because of specialized equipment and protocol — 96 samples must be collected and analyzed together. So far, they have samples from about 30 specimens that have been barcoded, Hawke says. Those bits of tissue now sit in the freezer “waiting until the rest are collected.”

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Comments
1

I will be happy to colaborate I have been collecting fungi from the North ir México for some time. Some species may be the same. Cheers!

Feb. 23, 2015

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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