Sunday, 10 April 2022

Patience and time

BMS Spring Fungus Study Week: a view of the workroom

I've had my mind set on fungi this week at the British Mycological Society conference and Spring fungus study week in Cranfield, Bedfordshire.

I sent a few tweets from the conference, here

Our tutors for the fungus study week were Thomas Læssøe and Jens Petersen, authors of 'Fungi of Temperate Europe' (currently on sale at Summerfield Books and elsewhere); so of course I couldn't resist getting my copy of their magnum opus signed.

Jens Petersen gave an interesting talk at the BMS conference on fungus identification keys – good and bad! – and the opportunities presented by 'artificial keys', which guide the user towards an identification using the most easily-observable characters (rather than a strictly taxonomic approach), plus the benefits of modern publishing, incorporating ample use of images and colour.

You can see this approach in action, in stunning technicolor, in the 'fungus identification wheels' in Læssøe and Petersen's books. The wheels are downloadable for free over on their MycoKey website:

VERY EXCITINGLY (!) Jens also showcased some keys to species that they have been working on. Draft versions for some groups [in Danish] are available for testing, over on the Svampe Databasen website (here) – accessible via the "Identification Circles" link on the menu.

Jens said they're hoping to publish the keys in Danish in 2023, with English translations to follow (perhaps in 2025?). Gonna have to save up some spending money for that!

I've not had much to do with spring fungi over the years, so Spring fungus study week proved to be a good opportunity to put 'Fungi of Temperate Europe' to the test, tackling some tiny things I'd usually walk on by. 

(Incidentally, Geoffrey Kibby talked about 'wob's, short for 'walk on by', in his presentation on Cortinarius. Not that he was suggesting Cortinarius are wobs, quite the contrary! If you find some nice fresh Cortinarius showing off their enigmatic characters, then you might want to have a crack at them using Geoffrey's latest book: The Genus Cortinarius in Britain. Old and weathered Cortinarius though... they're wobs. Geoffrey's advice: forget them, they're not worth spending your time on.)

Anyway, back to the tiny things. Like, what's growing on this stick?

... or, more specifically, what's that black stuff you can see on the right hand end there? Under a hand lens, I could make out some small fuzzy round fruit bodies.

The fungus identification wheels guided me quickly to 'non-stromatic pyrenomycetous fungi' and from there to 'non-stromatic, unitunicate, dark pyrenomycetous fungi'. Lasiosphaeris hirsuta s.l. seemed like a good picture-match, so the next step was to check the spores.

Chris Yeates, who also spoke at the BMS conference about his epic Fungi of Yorkshire project, gave me some useful tips on getting spores out of these tiny things...

A few fruit bodies (perithecia) under the dissecting microscope.

Using a dissecting microscope, I cut open a fresh-looking one and scooped out a tiny bit of the insides – that gelatinous-looking stuff – with very fine tweezers. I think I was lucky to find some live perithecia on my first look, cos all the other ones I looked at later were dry and empty inside (i.e., dead), in which case the whole endeavour becomes fairly impossible, I gather.

Transferring the 'stuff' onto a microscope slide with a drop of water and a coverslip on top, I was able to get a look at it under 40x magnification. And, voilà! I managed to find a big fat ascus and mature ascospores:

The 'Fungi of Temperate Europe' book isn't designed to get you all the way to a species ID with these kinds of things, but by now I had a good idea of what I needed to be googling. 

I found a paper by Miller & Huhndorf (2004) – "A natural classification of Lasiosphaeria based on nuclear LSU rDNA sequences" – illustrating differing ascospore morphology for Lasiosphaeria species.

My collection fitted within their 'group D' for ascospore morphology; so, combined with the overall morphological characteristics, that seemed to make my collection a good match for Lasiosphaeris hirsuta

That was one of only about three species I got to an ID on this week. 

Another one was Valsa salicina on Salix. I had to have several attempts at the microscopy, over three days, to convince myself that this was what Chris Yeates and David Hawksworth had said that it probably was, when they had a quick look at it. But I got there in the end!

Morphology of the Valsa salicina perithecia. The white stuff where the perithecia are emerging is... distinctive?

The spores weren't so interesting on this one. Just big fat sausage-shaped things, held in 4-spored asci.

... But one of the joys of fungus study week is marvelling at everyone else's collections as well (like this Atyheniella adonis) so that provided plenty of additional entertainment.  

With thanks to Carol Hobart and Peter Smith at the BMS for all their efforts organising the week, Pat & Keith Cavanagh for organising all the survey sites, and our tutors Thomas Læssøe & Jens Petersen. A very enjoyable week.

I feel if I put my mind to it, with a bit of patience and time, I could get into tiny funguses on sticks.


Jens explaining that crusts are just really impossible sometimes.

No comments:

Post a Comment