Sunday, 28 July 2019

North of the border (over Bramley way)

I ventured into Surrey on Saturday, with the West Weald Fungus Recording Group, for a fungus foray at Surrey Wildlife Trust's Bonhurst Farm. It was a joint recording day and volunteers' event to celebrate 60 year's of Surrey Wildlife Trust. Happy birthday, neighborinos!


This Dwarf Mallow Malva neglecta by the registration tent produced my first species of the day...


Mallow Rust Puccinia malvacearum.



The recent rain had brought a crop of pale yellowish Agrocybe mushrooms to the sheep fields but I thought I'd let someone else ID those.


An area of wet woodland, thick with willow and elder proved quite fruitful.

Growing on a living, lichen-covered willow branch, I spotted this small orange jelly fungus.


Having looked at it's microscopic features, I'm thinking this must be a particularly plump-looking Common Jellyspot Dacrymyces stillatus.

Squash stained with PlaqSearch and mounted in water. 1000x magnification.
It seems to be without clamp connections, as far as I can tell, and the spores are up to 3-septate.


Following the key in Reid's Monograph of the British Dacrymycetales (1974) that takes me to D. stillatus. He does note that this species can occur in "large, soft gelatinous masses up to 2 cm in length."

These pale Psathyrella mushrooms were at their best, with the ragged remnants of a while veil still showing around the edge of the cap.







I made the spores around 7 x 4 microns and thought I could just see the shadow of a germ pore.

Spores mounted in water. 1000x magnification.

I could find no cystidia on the face of the gills (pleurocystidia) but lots on the gill edge (cheilocystidia).

Gill edge mounted in water. 400x magnification.
I am lead to conclude it's Pale Brittlestem Psathyrella candolleana. (Their elegant slender form had made me think they might be something different.)

On a wet rotting branch nearby I spied some small grey 'crepidotoid' gilled mushrooms, growing in a small tiered cluster. Each one was no more than a few millimetres across. Looking closely, they all had this tufted hairy covering, towards the centre of the cap. In the older specimens the hairy part of the cap appeared darker, giving the fruit bodies a two-tone appearance.



I think these must be Hairy Oysterling Resupinatus trichotis. Quite an enigmatic little thing, when you get a good look at it.


On a large rotting log, at the edge of a sunken lane, we found a big patch of Tripe Fungus Auricularia mesenterica. A nice find as I've never seen this species before.


And another jelly fungus on Hazel...


Not sure where to start with that one.

For the record
Date: 27/07/2019
Location: Bonhurst Farm, Surrey

Records to be submitted via WWFRG

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Lundy Fungi

Fungus observations from LUNDY



Had a nice trip across the water to Lundy earlier this week. Splashed out on a copy of 'Lundy Fungi' by John Hedger & David George (published by The Lundy Field Society) which turned out to be money well spent as it's a really nice, informative photographic guide to the species you're likely to encounter in the island's different habitats.

Much of Lundy is designated as a SSSI and, as I was just there as a day-tripper, I'd made no effort to obtain the necessary permissions to collect specimens for identification purposes. What follows is therefore an account of what I was able to observe of the island's fungi in situ.

I'm reasonably certain the mushrooms in the photo above are Fairy Ring Champignon Marasmius oreades, with that pronounced umbo. They were growing in the short grass on the cliff-top, near Devil's Slide.

The grazed areas we passed through on our walk up the western coast were dotted with piles of dung, hosting some impressive fungal displays.

I think these pair are Egghead Mottlegill Panaeolus semiovatus...




The stems were dusted with black spores...


... and this younger specimen shows the ring around the stem nicely.


These, I'm sure, are something different. But I would not be confident in naming them.


I noticed that the young fruit body emerging towards the centre of this photograph had a distinctive reddish-brown colour to it.
 

UPDATE 20/06/2019 - advice from Mandy Dee, Lundy Fungus Recorder, over on the British Mycological Society Facebook page, is that this is Psilocybe coprophila

I suspect this yellow fellow is something different again. But hard to say without a closer look.


UPDATE 20/06/2019 - advice from Mandy Dee is that this is Stropharia semiglobata. A species which the Lundy Fungi book describes as very common on Lundy.

On the heath, near Jenny's Cove, I spotted quite a few of these guys. I think they're Heath Navel Lichenomphalia umbellifera.


And the Golden Hair Lichen Teloschistes flavicans at the North End was pretty special.


Heading back towards civilisation, on Hangman's Hill, I was happy to come across Campion Anther Smut Microbotryum lychnidis-dioicae again (after my recent encounter close to home).


 And there was the ubiquitous bramble rust...


I did allow myself to collect one of the bramble leaves, so I could get a closer look.

With reference to Ellis & Ellis's 'Microfungi on Land Plants', I think my collection is Phragmidium violaceum, with its mostly 3-septate teliospores. A new one for me.


For the record
Date: 18/06/2019
Location: Lundy, Devon

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Campion Anther Smut


I've been taking a closer look at the Red Campion Silene dioica on my route to work, ever since I heard about Campion Anther Smut Microbotryum violaceum sensu lato (from @fungifrolics). Finally found some! On Sussex Wildlife Trust's Woods Mill nature reserve, near the willow tunnel.

What mycological madness is this, to try and wrap my head around?! This is a fungus which, having infected a host plant, proceeds to take over the plant's sexual parts for its own reproductive purposes. In the place of anthers, which would have borne pollen, the fungus causes the plant to produce a mass of dark brown spores.



An illustrated life cycle of Microbotryum can be found in Schäfer et al (2010). Fascinating stuff!

There is also a very accessible introduction to the Microbotryum violaeum species complex on A. J. Silverside's website, here. And it seems that modern molecular studies have not yet completely succeeded in resolving the complex into a group of satisfactorily delimited species (Vánky, 2004).

I had read that the spores of Microbotryum are ornamented with a reticulate ('net-like') mesh. This prompted me to spend a few hours playing with the microscope.



Here are a couple of spores from my Woods Mill collection. Both images were taken at 1000x magnification under oil immersion & manually focus-stacked using Helicon Focus.
  • Left: on my trusty, somewhat ancient, SP03 
  • Right: on the older-model SP100 I recently acquired. 
Took me all evening, but I was happy to get that relatively crisp right-hand image from my 'new' microscope. It was interesting to compare with these SEM images in Denchev et al (2009).

Figures 3-4 from Denchev et al (2009). Spores of Microbotryum lychnidis-dioicae (Liro) G. Deml & Oberw. on Silene latifolia in SEM. Bars 3 = 1 μm, 4 = 2 μm. Image © Denchev et al 2009.

Having been thoroughly distracted by this fungus's biology and rather attractive spores, all that remains is to put a species name to it. Spooner & Legon (2006), in their list of species in the Microbotryum violaceum complex which can be recognised in Britain, have M. lychnidis-dioicae occurring in anthers of Silene dioica. Whereas Vánky (2004), advocates using the name M. violaceum sensu lato, pending further taxonomic work. So there we go. Take your pick.

There are a whole bunch of different Microbotryum species, parasitising different plants. I think one of the most modern comprehensive treatments must by Vánky (1998) but there is also a nice list with pictures! in the recent 'Smut and Allied Fungi of Wales' (Woods et al, 2018). Want to find them all now!


References

Denchev, C. M., Giraud, T. & Hood, M. E. (2009). Three new species of anthericolous smut fungi on Caryophyllaceae. Mycologia Balcanica. 6: 79-84. URL: http://max2.ese.u-psud.fr/publications/Denchev_2009.pdf

Schäfer, A., Kemler, M., Bauer, R. & Begerow, D. (2010). The illustrated life cycle of Microbotryum on the host plant Silene latifolia. Botany. 88. 875-885. 10.1139/B10-061. URL: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235119641_The_illustrated_life_cycle_of_Microbotryum_on_the_host_plant_Silene_latifolia 

Silverside, A.J. Microbotryum violaceum. URL: http://www.bioref.lastdragon.org/Pucciniomycotina/Microbotryum_violaceum.html (accessed June 2019)

Spooner, B.M. & Legon, N.W. (2006). Additions and amendments to the list of British smut fungi. Mycologist. 20(3). pp. 90-96. URL: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0269915X06000322

Vánky, K, (1998), The genus Microbotryum (smut fungi). Mycotaxon 67: 33-60.

Vánky, K., (2004), Anther smuts of Caryophyllaceae. Taxonomy, nomenclature, problems in species delimitation. Mycologia Balcanica 1: 189–191. URL: https://zenodo.org/record/2546766#.XOOzcdh7m70 

Woods, R.G., Chater, A.O., Smith, P.A., Stringer, R.N. & Evans, D.A. (2018). Smut and Allied Fungi of Wales: A Guide, Red Data List and Census Catalogue. Aberystwyth. URL: https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/425372/1/smut_RDL.pdf

For the record
Date: 20/05/2019
Location: Woods Mill, West Sussex
Grid ref: TQ217137

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Tutsan Rust

Been finding myself intrigued by rusts recently.

I reckon this one's Tutsan Rust Melampsora hypericorum.


Quite pretty! Pathogen, or just part of life's rich tapestry?

For the record
Date: 8/6/2019
Location: Rowland Wood, East Sussex
Grid ref: TQ515147

Dining on oysters

This blog is brought to you in association with Patrick Roper and Lois Mayhew. Sussex naturalists assemble!


I went for a walk round Ebernoe Common the weekend before last, on one of those hot sunny days that seem like a distant memory after a few days of rain.

It had been so dry, I was surprised to find a fallen beech tree sprouting oyster mushrooms: Pleurotus ostreatus, I believe. On the southern side of the trunk they were fully grown and showing signs of having been grazed upon by molluscs.

A very active Black-headed Cardinal Beetle Pyrochroa coccinea seemed to be investigating the area. Perhaps looking for smaller insects to prey upon.



On the northern side of the trunk, more fruit bodies were emerging in their hundreds from underneath the bark.


Approaching, I scared up a great cloud of insects which, left undisturbed for a few minutes, settled again on the fresh young fruit bodies.


Looking closely, I saw that most of these insects were tiny flies.



I asked Sussex dipterist Patrick Roper if he could tell me anything about these flies and was delighted when – looking at a photograph he tentatively identified them as fruit fly Hirtodrosophila trivittata.

I needed to get one of these flies under the microscope to get a proper look at its features, so returned to Ebernoe a few days later to collect a specimen. The dark stripes on the thorax, with the central stripe extending down the top of the head is really quite distinctive. And it's got this little black 'spoiler' type structure on the back of the thorax which must give it some mad aerodynamic properties.



Patrick's identification was confirmed by Peter Chandler in the Dipterists Forum who was kind enough to share an account of this species. It was first recorded in England in 2008, from Hampshire, but has since occurred widely in the south, usually in association with Pleurotus species, "around which it can be quite numerous". That was certainly the case where I found it!

I think this sighting may constitute the second record for Sussex, as it was apparently recorded from Fontwell Wood in 2011. But it's hard to be sure as the species doesn't seem to have made it into the UK species dictionary yet, or iRecord.

While I was distracted by the flies, my companion on this expedition, Lois Mayhew, was busy trying to get a snap of this micromoth.  


Since the publication of Sterling & Parson's Field Guide to Micromoths, illustrated by Richard Lewington, micromoths are not quite as impossibly hard as they used to be. Lois identified this one as Triaxomera fulvimitrella and the UK Moths website records that "this woodland species flies from May to July when it may be found at rest on tree trunks. The larvae feed from September during the winter months in dead wood, or on bracket fungus, especially those growing on beech (Fagus) or oak (Quercus)." Another fungivore!

While Lois was appreciating the resident moth, I found yet more fruit bodies, at an earlier stage of development, emerging from the dim and sheltered underside of the fallen trunk.


A crop like this must be a great resource for the fungivorous creatures of Ebernoe Common, and their predators and parasites. I would love to know more about how these fungus-based food webs work – if anyone can point me in the direction of relevant studies.

Oh and we found a Lesser Stag Beetle Dorcus parallelipipedus here too. But I'm less interested in that because it doesn't have anything to do with fungus. Or at least I don't think it does?


For the record
Date: 1/6/2019 and 5/6/2019
Location: Ebernoe Common, West Sussex
Grid ref: SU972266

Invertebrate records submitted to Dipterists Forum / iRecord

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Pocket Plums


I do like a nice fungal gall, and the genus Taphrina includes some stunners. I was interested to see these fresh galls on a Prunus of some kind (not Prunus padus), in Thetford the other week: Taphrina pruni (there is a different, similar, species which occurs on P. padus: T. padi).

The fungus causes this deformed growth in the developing fruits.


Debbie Evans' article in Field Mycology (2016, vol. 17 issue 2) on 'An exceptional Taphrina year in North-west Wales' (here) is a nice introduction to some of the Taphrina species that can be found in Britain.

Taphrina alni is the only other species from this genus that I've encountered before.

Will be keeping an eye out for the other British species:

For the record
Date: 10/05/2019
Location: Thetford
Grid reference: TL870827

Fungal fly fatality: my introduction to Entomophthora




My head was turned by this scene of high fungal drama at Sheffield Park, East Sussex, last Saturday. A fly, clinging on tightly atop a patch of nettles, wings outstretched. Dead.

Looking closer, I spotted the fungus, consuming and growing out of its host.


The amateur entomologist in my life tells me this is a Yellow Dung Fly Scathophaga stercoraria. It's been infected by an Entomophthora fungus; I guessed that much as Sussex naturalist Jamie Burston had posted similar images on Twitter a few days before, here.

In idle Googling of this species, I was intrigued to find an account from Pevensey, East Sussex, from 11 June 1933 when a Mr H. M. Edelsten found "a large patch of nettle, every shoot of which was covered with dead dung-flies. There must have been many thousands in this one patch..." The specimens collected by Mr. Edelsten were identified as S. stercoraria (Hobby & Elton, 1935).

What is this fungus that stalks the nettle patches of Sussex, killing flies one by one, or in their thousands? I had to know.

Spooner & Roberts give a brief introduction to the Entomophthoraceus fungi (Entomophthorales) in their book 'Fungi' (2005). Taking Entomophthora muscae as an example, they explain that the fungus can affect host flies' behaviour in different ways, depending on whether conidia or resting spores are produced. Infected flies producing conidia die above ground in the late afternoon, adopting a position which is favourable to the dispersal of the spores, and the spores are then discharged at night when conditions are ideal for germination.


Life cycle of Entomophthora muscae infecting a muscoid fly. From Gryganskyi et al (2017) (CC-0)


I came across this illustration of the Entomophthora muscae lifecycle over on ResearchGate and it features in an open access article: 'Hijacked: Co-option of host behavior by entomophthoralean fungi' by Gryganskyi et al (2017), well worth a read for its dramatised introduction (conidia – the asexual spores of the fungus are described as "biological bullets of death", which is one way of looking at it; a mycologist might point out they are also, quite literally, biological bullets of life...).

The authors encourage the reader to "note lifelike stance". This appearance of life in death is part of the fungus's game. A study by Møller (1993) found that, "Males especially were attracted to and behaved sexually towards dead, infected flies even when a choice was available between a dead, infected fly and a dead, uninfected individual. The abdomen of infected flies swelled considerably as a consequence of infection, and uninfected female flies with larger abdomens are more fecund than the average female and maybe more attractive."

What I think Møller is saying here is, FLIES LIKE BIG BUTTS (maybe) and Entomophthora muscae is perhaps exploiting this prediliction to spread its spores. The results of Møller's study are, however, not entirely conclusive on the question of what it is about fungus-infected female flies that makes them so darn sexually attractive (to male flies).

Anyway, all this biology stuff is fascinating. But this blog is about IDENTIFYING fungi.

Spooner & Roberts (2005) explain that identification of the Entomophthorales often presents problems but mention that Waterhouse & Brady's 'Key to the species of Entomophthora sensu lato' (1982) is still useful, and they also reference Keller's work on this group.

I managed to track down Waterhouse & Brady's key and found it includes some nice illustrations of the microscopic features of the various species. This, for example, is what conidia from species in the Entomophthora muscae complex look like:


This was motivation enough for me to spend the rest of the morning scraping stuff off the dead fly I'd collected, so that I could get a look at it under the microscope.

Stuff I'd scraped off a dead fly, mounted in water at 400x magnification.

I reckon I've found me some conidia there, and they look about right for Entomophthora muscae sensu lato. That doesn't help much with identifying my collection to species though, since I read that "E. muscae sensu stricto and E. scatophagae are virtually indistinguishable using conidial characteristics" (Jensen et al, 2006).

In Keller's treatment of the genus Entomophthora (2002), he talks about how to separate E. muscae sensu stricto from other closely related species, including E. scatophagae, noting that, "So far only a single species of Entomophthora was found to attack the [Yellow Dung Fly Scathophaga stercoraria] which can, therefore, be considered as E. scatophagae."

On that basis, I think I can reasonably determine my collection as Entomophthora scataphagae Giard. Having delved this far into the depths of the internet, I thought I'd have a go at tracking down Giard's original description. With a bit of help from MycoBank, I managed to find it in the Biodiversity Heritage Library. Giard (1888) talks about E. scataphagæ [sic] differing from E. muscae in having spores which are "d'une couleur jaune" ~ of a yellow colour ~ and I reckon I could convince myself that the spores in my collection have a touch of yellow about them.

More recently, Jensen et al (2006) have been using molecular data to re-assess the Entomophthora muscae species complex, looking at host range, morphological and genetic characteristics to reach "an operational species definition", i.e. a reliable way of telling these cryptic species apart. They find that E. scataphagae is genetically distinct from, albeit closely related to E. muscae sensu stricto and note that, "The high host specificity of these fungi emphasizes the importance of identifying the host taxon at species level in the recognition of Entomophthora species."


So I guess a take-home message for mycologists wanting to get into Entomophthora is 'find a friendly dipterist' to help you with those fly IDs.


A note on names
Entomophthora scataphagæ / scataphagae / scataphaga ? I have followed Keller and other authors in using scataphagae, although I note this species is listed on MycoBank and the NBN Atlas as scatophaga.


References

Giard, A. (1888). Fragments biologiques. XI. Sur quelques Entomophthorèes. Bulletin Scientifique de la France et de la Belgique. 19:298-309. URL: https://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/10723150

Gryganskyi, A.P., Mullens, B.A., Gajdeczka, M.T., Rehner, S.A., Vilgalys, R. & Hajek, A.E. (2017). Hijacked: Co-option of host behavior by entomophthoralean fungi. PLoS pathogens, 13(5). URL: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1006274


Hobby, B.M. & Elton, C. (1935). Mortality in the Dung-fly, Scatophaga stercoraria. Journal of the Society for British Entomology 1935 Vol.1 Part 3 pp.71-72. URL: https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/item/224780#page/87/mode/1up

Jensen, A.B., Thomsen, L. & Eilenberg, J. (2006). Value of host range, morphological, and genetic characteristics within the Entomophthora muscae species complex. Mycological Research Vol. 110 Issue 8 pp.941-950. URL: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mycres.2006.06.003

Keller, S. (2002). The genus Entomophthora (Zygomycetes, Entomophthorales) with a description of five new species. Sydowia. 54:157-197. URL: https://www.zobodat.at/pdf/Sydowia_54_0157-0197.pdf


Møller, A.P. (1993). A fungus infecting domestic flies manipulates sexual behaviour of its host. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 33: 403. URL: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00170255

MycoBank. (2019). Search for "Entomophthora scatophaga". URL: http://www.mycobank.org/BioloMICSDetails.aspx?Rec=321312 [accessed 19/05/2019]

NBN Atlas (2019). Search for "Entomophthora scatophaga". URL: https://species.nbnatlas.org/species/BMSSYS0000045310 [accessed 19/05/2019]

Spooner, B. & Roberts, P. (2005). Fungi. The New Naturalist Library, Collins. pp. 175-178.

Waterhouse, G.N. & Brady, B.L (1982). Key to the species of Entomophthora sensu lato. Bulletin of the British Mycological Society Vol. 16 Issue 2. pp. 113-143. URL: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0007-1528(82)80006-0


For the record
Date: 11/05/2019
Location: Sheffield Park, East Sussex
Grid reference: TQ412235