Tawny owl and mushroom


Mushroom, 6 September 2020

This a Parasola sp. mushroom which has suffered from drought. This 6 September 2020 cellphone photo is from a woodland near Joppe in the Netherlands.

That day, dozens of goldfinches and also some blue tits feeding on sunflowers along the road.

During the night, male and female tawny owl calls.

Skullcap dapperling and birds


Skullcap dapperlings, 5 August 2020

These two cellphone photos show skullcap dapperling mushrooms.

Skullcap dapperlings, on 5 August 2020

We saw them on 5 August 2020 in woodland near Joppe village in Gelderland province in the Netherlands.

We heard nuthatches, jays and great spotted woodpeckers.

A buzzard on a pole.

A wren not far away.

New truffle fungus species discovered


This September 2020 video says about itself:

Why Can’t We Farm These Foods Yet?

There are some foods [like truffles] that are so popular that they are at risk of going extinct. What are they and why is it so difficult to harvest them?

From Oregon State University in the USA:

A 40-year journey leads to a new truffle species

August 4, 2020

As a first-year graduate student studying truffle ecology at Oregon State University, Dan Luoma attended a scientific meeting in 1981 on Orcas Island in Washington. Having recently learned how to search for truffles, he went out one day of the meeting looking for the prized fungi and found a collection.

He brought them back to Oregon State and showed them to his mentor James Trappe, who confirmed the collection was of an undescribed species. Trappe added it to the university’s collection. Then it sat there.

Almost four decades later, with the help of new scientific technologies, Trappe and several other scientists confirmed that the truffle is unique. They recently published their findings
in the journal Fungal Systematics and Evolution recognizing it as a new species. Fittingly, it’s named Tuber luomae after Luoma, who retired this year after 40 years at Oregon State.

“This truffle in 1981 was among the first truffles I ever found,” Luoma said. “To have it named in my honor the year I retired completes the circle for me. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate retirement.”

Some truffle species are highly prized for culinary purposes because of their distinct flavor. These species, which are black, white or brown, are hard to find and exist in limited geographic areas, meaning they command high prices.

Oregon and the Pacific Northwest are home to several of those prized species, making the region one of the world’s hot spots for truffle hunting. The species discovered by Luoma, though, is a red truffle, which doesn’t have the distinct flavor sought by chefs and cooks.

While the culinary use of truffles and the thrill of searching for them gets a lot of attention, they and other fungi are important for the health of forests. They provide nutrients to plants and can also help plants withstand drought.

Luoma studied the ecology of truffles and fungi while earning his doctorate from Oregon State in 1988 and until earlier this year worked as a researcher at the university.

Several graduate students who worked with him during his early years planned to name the truffle species he found on Orcas Island in honor of Luoma, but they graduated before doing so.

Then about 10 years ago Trappe, now Luoma’s colleague, searched the Oregon State truffle collections, the largest in the world with about 50,000 collections, looking for truffles similar to the one Luoma found on Orcas Island. Trappe found three.

Joyce Eberhart, a truffle researcher at Oregon State and Luoma’s wife, and Greg Bonito, an assistant professor at Michigan State University, studied the DNA of those three and determined they were the same species as the Orcas Island truffle.

Those three were all found in Oregon — one each in Benton (found in 1962), Clackamas (1995) and Jackson (2012) counties. While the Benton County specimen was found before Luoma dug up the Orcas Island one, it was never fully described until Trappe noticed the similarities between the two. Now the known distribution of the new species extends from southwestern Oregon to northwestern Washington.

Carolina Piña Páez, a doctoral student at Oregon State who also does truffle research, provided the final piece by documenting the microscopic structures inside the truffle with photos, confirming that the spores and outer layers were that of a unique species.

Trappe, who has studied truffles for more than 60 years and has discovered 230 new truffle species, still gets excited about a new species, such as this one named after Luoma.

“Many dozens of professional and amateur mycologists have sought truffles in western Oregon for over 100 years, but only these four collections of Luoma’s truffle have been found. Each of those seems to be quite local in distribution, indicating that it’s a very rare fungus,” Trappe said.

New fungus species discovered on Twitter


This 16 May 2020 video says about itself:

Scientist Discovers New Fungus on Twitter, called Troglomyces twitteri

New species of fungus that pierces its host to suck nutrients is discovered on TWITTER after biologists spot an image of an American millipede with bizarre red dots in a tweet.

From the University of Copenhagen in Denmark:

Bizarre new species discovered… on Twitter

May 15, 2020

Summary: A new species of fungus has been discovered via Twitter and christened accordingly — Troglomyces twitteri. This unique fungal parasite grows around the reproductive organs of millipedes.

While many of us use social media to be tickled silly by cat videos or wowed by delectable cakes, others use them to discover new species. Included in the latter group are researchers from the University of Copenhagen’s Natural History Museum of Denmark. Indeed, they just found a new type of parasitic fungus via Twitter.

It all began as biologist and associate professor Ana Sofia Reboleira of the National Natural History Museum was scrolling though Twitter. There, she stumbled upon a photo of a North American millipede shared by her US colleague Derek Hennen of Virginia Tech. She spotted a few tiny dots that struck her well-trained eyes.

“I could see something looking like fungi on the surface of the millipede. Until then, these fungi had never been found on American millipedes. So, I went to my colleague and showed him the image. That’s when we ran down to the museum’s collections and began digging,” explains Ana Sofia Reboleira.

Together with colleague Henrik Enghoff, she discovered several specimens of the same fungus on a few of the American millipedes in the Natural History Museum’s enormous collection — fungi that had never before been documented. This confirmed the existence of a previously unknown species of Laboulbeniales — an order of tiny, bizarre and largely unknown fungal parasites that attack insects and millipedes.

The newly discovered parasitic fungus has now been given its official Latin name, Troglomyces twitteri.

SoMe meets museum

Ana Sofia Reboleira points out that the discovery is an example of how sharing information on social media can result in completely unexpected results:

“As far as we know, this is the first time that a new species has been discovered on Twitter. It highlights the importance of these platforms for sharing research — and thereby being able to achieve new results. I hope that it will motivate professional and amateur researchers to share more data via social media. This is something that has been increasingly obvious during the coronavirus crisis, a time when so many are prevented from getting into the field or laboratories.”

Reboleira believes that social media is generally playing a larger and larger role in research.

She stresses that the result was possible because of her access to one of the world’s largest biological collections.

“Because of our vast museum collection, it was relatively easy to confirm that we were indeed looking at an entirely new species for science. This demonstrates how valuable museum collections are. There is much more hiding in these collections than we know,” says Ana Sofia Reboleira.

Underappreciated parasitic fungus

Laboulbeniales-fungi look like tiny larvae. The fungi are in a class of their own because they live on the outside of host organisms, and even on specific parts of bodies — in this case, on the reproductive organs of millipedes. The fungus sucks nutrition from its host animal by piercing the host’s outer shell using a special suction structure, while the other half of the fungus protrudes.

Approximately 30 different species of parasitic Laboulbeniales-fungi attack millipedes. The vast majority of these were only discovered after 2014. According to Reboleira, there are most likely a great number remaining to be discovered. Research in the area of Laboulbeniales remains extremely scarce.

Nor is much known about their own biology, says Reboleira, who researches these fungi on a daily basis. She believes that these fungi can not only teach us about the insects upon which they live, but also about the mechanisms behind parasitism itself — that is, the relationship between parasites and their hosts. She hopes that the research will also provide useful knowledge about the parasites that attack and can be harmful to human health.

FACTS:

  • The new species Troglomyces twitteri belongs to the order of microscopic parasitic fungi known as Laboulbeniales. These fungi live on insects, arachnids and millipedes, and rely on their host organisms to survive.
  • The research was conducted by: Sergi Santamaria of the Departament de Biologia Animal, de Biologia Vegetal i d’Ecologia, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain; and Henrik Enghoff & Ana Sofia Reboleira from the Natural History Museum of Denmark at the University of Copenhagen.
  • Millipede specimens from the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle (MNHN) in Paris helped confirm the discovery of the new species of fungus.
  • The Natural History Museum of Denmark’s entomological collection is one of the world’s largest, housing more than 3.5 million pin-mounted insects and at least as many alcohol-preserved insect and land animal specimens. About 100,000 known species are represented (out of a total number of over one million species)

What gypsy moth caterpillars eat


This 27 March 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

The first episode of Insect Xaminer features gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar). Join UMass Extension as we get an up-close and personal view of this invasive insect’s life cycle and two pathogens that help keep gypsy moth populations below outbreak levels in Massachusetts.

From the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Germany:

Gypsy moth larvae love poplar leaves infected by fungi

April 20, 2020

Black poplar leaves infected by fungi are especially susceptible to attack by gypsy moth caterpillars. A research team at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany, has now further investigated this observation. The scientists found that the young larvae of this herbivore upgrade their diet with fungal food: Caterpillars that fed on leaves covered with fungal spores grew faster and pupated a few days earlier than those feeding only on leaf tissue. The higher concentrations of important nutrients in fungi, such as amino acids, nitrogen and vitamins, are probably the reason for their better performance. The results shed new light on the co-evolution of plants and insects, in which fungi and other microorganisms play a much greater role than previously assumed.

Gypsy moth caterpillars are known as feeding generalists; this means they accept a large variety of deciduous trees species and shrubs as their food plants. Outbreaks of this species have been documented every now and then also in German forest ecosystems.

Sybille Unsicker and her research team are investigating how poplars defend themselves against herbivores, including the gypsy moth. The scientists had observed that these trees downregulate their defense against the voracious insect when they are simultaneously being attacked by fungi. “We noticed that caterpillars are attracted by the odor of fungus-infested poplars, so we wondered why this is so: Would the caterpillars prefer to feed on infested leaves as well? Would this provide an advantage? And if so, what kind of chemicals are responsible for this?” first author Franziska Eberl asks, describing the basic questions of the study.

Feeding experiments in which the gypsy moth larvae were offered a choice of leaves with or without fungal infection revealed the clear preference of the caterpillars for leaves infected with fungi. In the early larval stage, they even consumed the fungal spores on the leaf surface before feeding on leaf tissue. “Whether rust fungi or mildew, young caterpillars selectively fed on the spores and preferred to feed on infected leaves,” explains Franziska Eberl. Chemical analyses showed that mannitol, a substance that is also used as an artificial sweetener in human food, is primarily responsible for this preference. Eberl also monitored larval fitness, which is shown by how well larvae develop — a measurement that depends largely on their diet. “Larvae that consume fungus-infected leaves develop faster and also pupate earlier. This gives them an advantage over their siblings who feed on healthy leaves. Important nutrients, such as amino acids, nitrogen and B vitamins, are likely responsible for increased growth, because their concentration is higher infected leaves,” said the researcher.

The role of microorganisms puts the co-evolution of plants and insects in a new light

The observation that an insect classified as an herbivore is actually a fungivore — at least in its early larval stage — was a real surprise for the research team. “Our results suggest that microorganisms living on plants might have a more important role in the co-evolution of plants and insects than previously thought,” says Sybille Unsicker, head of the study. “In the black poplar trees from our study, fungal infestation occurs every year. It is therefore indeed imaginable that herbivorous insects have been able to adapt to the additional fungal resource. Especially with regards to the longevity of trees, the evolutionary adaptation to a diet consisting of leaves and fungi seems plausible for such insects.”

Further investigations are needed to clarify how widespread fungivory is in other herbivorous insect species and what influence the combination of plant and fungal food has on the immune system of insects. It is possible that this food niche also has an effect on the insects’ own defense against their enemies, such as parasitoid wasps. The role of microorganisms in the interactions between plants and insects has long been underestimated, even overlooked. This study is an important step to make up for that neglect.

Will Asian snails save Puerto Rican coffee?


This video is about the snail Bradybaena similaris.

From the University of Michigan in the USA:

Can a tiny invasive snail help save Latin American coffee?

January 23, 2020

While conducting fieldwork in Puerto Rico’s central mountainous region in 2016, University of Michigan ecologists noticed tiny trails of bright orange snail excrement on the undersurface of coffee leaves afflicted with coffee leaf rust, the crop’s most economically important pest.

Intrigued, they conducted field observations and laboratory experiments over the next several years and showed that the widespread invasive snail Bradybaena similaris, commonly known as the Asian tramp snail and normally a plant-eater, had shifted its diet to consume the fungal pathogen that causes coffee leaf rust, which has ravaged coffee plantations across Latin America in recent years.

Now the U-M researchers are exploring the possibility that B. similaris and other snails and slugs, which are part of a large class of animals called gastropods, could be used as a biological control to help rein in coffee leaf rust. But as ecologists, they are keenly aware of the many disastrous attempts at biological control of pests in the past.

“This is the first time that any gastropod has been described as consuming this pathogen, and this finding may potentially have implications for controlling it in Puerto Rico,” said U-M doctoral student Zachary Hajian-Forooshani, lead author of a paper published online Jan. 12 in the journal Ecology.

“But further work is needed to understand the potential tradeoffs B. similaris and other gastropods may provide to coffee agroecosystems, given our understanding of other elements within the system,” said Hajian-Forooshani, who is advised by U-M ecologist John Vandermeer, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Vandermeer and U-M ecologist Ivette Perfecto, a professor at the School for Environment and Sustainability, lead a team that has been monitoring coffee leaf rust and its community of natural enemies on 25 farms throughout Puerto Rico’s coffee-producing region.

Those natural enemies include fly larvae, mites, and a surprisingly diverse community of fungi living on coffee leaves, within or alongside the orange blotches that mark coffee leaf rust lesions. Hajian-Forooshani has been studying all of these natural enemies for his doctoral dissertation.

“Of all the natural enemies I have been studying, these gastropods in Puerto Rico most obviously and effectively clear the leaves of the coffee leaf rust fungal spores,” he said in an email from Puerto Rico.

Chief among those gastropods is B. similaris, originally from Southeast Asia and now one of the world’s most widely distributed invasive land snails. It has a light brown shell that is 12 to 16 millimeters (roughly one-half to two-thirds of an inch) across.

In their Ecology paper, Hajian-Forooshani, Vandermeer and Perfecto describe experiments in which a single infected coffee leaf and a single B. similaris snail were placed together inside dark containers. After 24 hours, the number of coffee leaf rust fungal spores on the leaves had been reduced by roughly 30%.

However, the snails were also responsible for a roughly 17% reduction in the number of lesions caused by another natural enemy of coffee leaf rust, the parasitic fungus Lecanicillium lecanii.

“With the data we are collecting now, we seek to find out if there are any apparent tradeoffs between these two consumers of the coffee leaf rust,” Hajian-Forooshani said. “For example, if the fungal parasite is especially efficient at reducing the rust, and the snail eats it along with the rust itself, that could be a tradeoff: promote the snail to control the rust and face the possibility that the snail eats too much of the other controlling factor.”

In their Ecology paper, the authors say they’re cognizant of “the many disastrous attempts at classical biological control” in the past.

One of the best-known examples of a biological backfire was the introduction of the cane toad into Australia in the mid-1930s to control a beetle that was destroying sugar cane. Long story short, the cane toad was completely ineffective at controlling the beetle and became a pest in its own right by multiplying dramatically in the absence of natural enemies.

So, it’s too soon to tell if the fungus-eating appetite of B. similaris and other snails could be harnessed in the fight against coffee leaf rust. One big unanswered question: Do the fungal spores remain viable after they pass through the guts of the snails?

“The gastropods seem to reduce the number of spores on the leaf, but it’s not clear if the spores can still germinate in the excrement,” Hajian-Forooshani said. “Also, we don’t know how the effect of the gastropods on coffee leaf rust scales up to impact the pathogen dynamics at the farm or regional scale.”

And the potential role of gastropods in the fight against coffee rust elsewhere in Latin America remains unknown. But the U-M researchers hope their findings in Puerto Rico will stimulate further research in other coffee-growing regions.

Rare fungi discovery in Dutch Drenthe


Peziza subviolacea, photo by Ronald Morsink

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

New mushroom species have been discovered in the Drents-Friese Wold National Park. The nature reserve had to deal with a major fire in 2018, during which 75 hectares were destroyed. That fire also yielded new nature.

For a year and a half, research was carried out on heathland mushrooms in the Dolsummerveld area . …

The research yielded various rare species, such as Peziza subviolacea, Pyronema omphalodes and Pholiota highlandensis. A new species was also discovered, which was also found two weeks earlier in Enschede. It is Myrmaecium rubricosum. …

Quick recovery

The Dolsummerveld recovers surprisingly quickly from the fire, according to the Drenthe conservation organisation. “It is barely visible where the fire has raged. The hope is that the heather will return to the area,” the foundation writes. It will take a few more years for the snake and butterfly population to be back up, writes RTV Drenthe. Many animals died during the fire, such as grass snakes, adders and slow worms.

Young toad, robins, fungi of Terschelling


This June 2014 video shows a small young natterjack toad being freed again in the wild in the Netherlands.

After 28 September 2019 on Terschelling island came 30 September for us.

A small young natterjack toad had managed to slip under our front door. We returned it to the sand dunes area.

In the gardens on both sides of the Parnassiaweg road in West-Terschelling village, robins sang, replying to each other.

In one of these gardens, sulphur tuft fungi.

This September 2015 video from Britain is about sulphur tuft mushrooms.

The next day, 30 September, we left Terschelling by boat. In the harbour, black-headed gulls and herring gulls.