You must be wondering why I am so curious about the mushrooms in Madagascar. Allow me to tell you about the wonders and mysteries of this extraordinary kingdom. Fungi represent a vast and indispensable part of life on Earth. They are the planet's recyclers, symbionts of over 90% of all plants, a critical component of every ecosystem, an ally in habitat restoration and modern medicine, enablers of art, industry, agriculture, and so much more!
Fungi have spawned entire economies, from caterpillar pathogens high atop the Tibetan Plateau, to truffles tucked under the topsoils of temperate woodlands, bringing prices on par with precious metals.
Over 95% of vascular plant life form intimate relationships with specific "fungi friends" as I like to call them. Without these partnerships the photosynthetic flora of the Earth would not be possible.
Yet, despite their importance and impact, only some 120,000 of an estimated 1.8 million species of fungi have been formally described; less than 7%! Not surprisingly, it is in the warmest, wettest places on Earth where the greatest number and variety of species exist; places that represent the foremost frontiers of mycological exploration.
For my work as a graduate student in the Desjardin Lab at San Francisco State University, in collaboration with the California Academy of Sciences Madagascar Biodiversity Center, I am traveling to one of these frontiers, the rainforests of Madagascar, to seek new species in the genus Marasmius. Named for their ability to revive after desiccation when exposed to moisture (a process called "marcescence"), these small but beautiful mushrooms play a key role in the decomposition of leaf litter and other organic debris in rainforest ecosystems (see http://mushroomobserver.org/45695 for an example of an unusual Marasmius species found in Ecuador). Previous work in the Desjardin Lab has indicated that when studying litter-decomposing fungi from under-explored island habitats, with high levels of endemism, nearly 80% of mushroom species encountered represent new species! To date, only a single paper has treated Marasmius species from Madagascar (Antonín & Buyck 2006), reporting only 19 species of the hundred or so I estimate to occur there.
The contributions you make to this project will go toward airfare and basic operating costs (food, transportation, housing, supplies, etc.) for myself and a research assistant for approximately three weeks of collecting, photography, and documentation. Upon my return to the US, I will use morphological, ecological, and molecular (DNA sequencing) data to aid in identification of the material collected. The end result will be a monograph of Marasmius from Madagascar.
This is a huge project, and I need your help to make this incredible feat in my scientific journey a reality. These essential forest recyclers need their moment in the spotlight of science, and I want to shine that light on them. Save the biodiversity of Madagascar and join me in understanding this essential component of rainforest ecosystems!
Thank you, and I look forward to this adventure together.
Risks and challenges
Risks include travel complications, catastrophic data loss, illness and any unforeseeable acts of God. Thankfully, I am not going alone and I will have the help and support of the California Academy of Science, their institute at the Madagascar Biodiversity Research Center, their accompanying staff (both local and abroad), my lab at San Francisco State University, and my research assistant, who will help this project become the huge success we know it can be.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (34 days)