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$16,074 pledged of $67,000 goal
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By Roo Vandegrift
$16,074 pledged of $67,000 goal
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About this project

The Xylaria of the Cloud Forests of Ecuador will be a beautiful hardcover guide to the identification and classification of the fungal genus Xylaria from the Ecuadorian cloud forests, one of the most biodiverse places on earth. It will include nearly 50 species of Xylaria and be fully illustrated with gorgeous, traditional botanical illustrations showing these fungi in their true glory. This will be the most significant taxonomic work on this group of fungi in almost a quarter of century, and the first ever such work to be fully illustrated. It will be essential to anyone interested in tropical fungi, and anyone that loves traditional illustration.

Xylaria hypoxylon, the most common North American Xylaria. Image courtesy Alan Rockefeller
Xylaria hypoxylon, the most common North American Xylaria. Image courtesy Alan Rockefeller

The Fungi: Xylaria

Xylaria are wood decay fungi—they eat dead and decomposing wood—and are incredibly diverse. In North America and Europe, the most familiar species is probably the Candlesnuff Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon), or Dead Man's Fingers (Xylaria polymorpha). In the tropics, the diversity of these fungi is staggering: there are more than 400 species of Xylaria known, and most of them occur in the tropics. And there are certainly many species unknown to science—this book will describe at least one of them for the first time ever.

Some diversity of Xylaria: a, Xylaria on bamboo, likely a new species to science; b, Xylaria telfairii; c, close up of a cross-section through Xylaria intracolorata; and d, Xylaria schweinitzii. Photos by Danny Newman.
Some diversity of Xylaria: a, Xylaria on bamboo, likely a new species to science; b, Xylaria telfairii; c, close up of a cross-section through Xylaria intracolorata; and d, Xylaria schweinitzii. Photos by Danny Newman.

These are some of the most common wood decay fungi in the tropics, which makes them very important to global carbon cycling, and thus climate change. When I started my dissertation, I wanted to study their ecology, how they live in the world and interact with the rest of the organisms in their ecosystems. To do that, I had to be able to identify them to species. And that was a problem: there is no guide to the species of Xylaria in the world. Taxonomy, the branch of science that orders and classifies organisms, has not really gotten to Xylaria yet. To figure out who these beautiful little fungi were, I had to dig back into a literature that sprawls over literally centuries, is often incomplete or contradictory—including more than 800 named species, of which more than half are incorrect for some reason. Now, I know how to identify the Xylaria that grow in the Cloud Forests of Ecuador, and I want to share that knowledge by writing and illustrating a guide book.

Xylaria fissilis, the most abundant Xylaria at Reserva Los Cedros, a cloud forest research field site in Ecuador. Scale bars: a = 2 mm, b = 1 mm, c = 10 µm, and d = 5 µm.
Xylaria fissilis, the most abundant Xylaria at Reserva Los Cedros, a cloud forest research field site in Ecuador. Scale bars: a = 2 mm, b = 1 mm, c = 10 µm, and d = 5 µm.

Illustration

I bring not only my unique knowledge of Xylaria to this book, but my life-long love of traditional botanical illustration. I have been an artist all my life, and doing technical illustration for nearly a decade. My scientific illustrations have been published in the journals Biological Invasions and Biotropica, and my graphic-narrative adaptation of Mary Miller’s story “A blind dog named Killer and a colony of bees” was published last year in the Nashville Review.

A sample of my illustrations: a, Xylaria schweinitzii, for this project; b, arbuscular mycorrhizae in a plant root; c, Helvella vespertina, the Oregon fluted elfin saddle; and c, Oscillatoria prisceps & O. tenebriformis, thermotolerant cyanobacteria.
A sample of my illustrations: a, Xylaria schweinitzii, for this project; b, arbuscular mycorrhizae in a plant root; c, Helvella vespertina, the Oregon fluted elfin saddle; and c, Oscillatoria prisceps & O. tenebriformis, thermotolerant cyanobacteria.

Taxonomy

There are only a handful of people in the world that have the expertise and training to identify fungi like this, and that number is shrinking. Funding for basic science has been decreasing for decades, and as the budgets shrink, the first things that get cut are basic, less “sexy” branches of science (such as taxonomy). The thing is, this brick-and-mortar science is necessary for the more complex scientific disciplines. To study evolution in important crop pollinators, you need to know which insects are which. So you send the insects to a taxonomist. To hunt for cancer treatments in tropical rainforest plants you need to know which plants are which. So you send them to a taxonomist. To study the impact that wood decay fungi have on global carbon cycles, and thus climate change, you need to know which fungi are which. So you send them to me—or you use a copy of the book that results from Kickstarters like this one to identify them.

Dr. Yu-Ming Ju and I, working in his laboratory in Taiwan to identify Xylaria collected in the Cloud Forests of Ecuador.
Dr. Yu-Ming Ju and I, working in his laboratory in Taiwan to identify Xylaria collected in the Cloud Forests of Ecuador.

In addition to my own expertise, I'll be drawing upon the expertise of many older, wiser heads than mine. I've been in communication with leading taxonomists about this project, including Dr. Yu-Ming Ju in Taiwan, Dr. Jack D. Rogers in Washington, and Dr. Thomas Læssøe, in Denmark. The science in this book will be up-to-date, accurate, and reviewed by leading experts in the field before publication.

Without funding for basic science, the existing taxonomists are nearing retirement, and training no replacements. Soon, no one will write these books, no one will illustrate them. I believe that we, as advocates for science and lovers of the beauty of nature, can help to solve this problem. Projects like this one don’t just breathe a little life into the study of a particular group of organisms, like the Xylaria, they send a strong message about the importance of basic scientific research, and the need for taxonomy and natural history. So please, click the green button and back this project.

The Project

This project will fund the remainder of the taxonomic research necessary, to be completed here at the University of Oregon, in collaboration with the Ecuadorian National Herbarium in Quito, as well the actual writing of the book, the production of the highest-quality illustrations of Xylaria available anywhere—which I am in the process of drawing—and the production of all the rewards.

Planning this has been a great education to me on what things cost: I've been involved in writing many scientific grants in the past decade, but I have not spent much time thinking about manufacturing and shipping costs. The large breakdown in the pie chart above splits the funding goal into broad classes: The "science" wedge of the pie is mostly personnel costs for the taxonomic and illustration work over the next year, as well as some supplies for microscopy. "Manufacturing" covers costs of actually producing all of the rewards, including the books. "Fulfillment" is the warehousing, distribution, and other services rendered by MakeThatThing, who are managing the logistics of the campaign. The size of the "shipping and handling" wedge of the pie surprised me a bit; it costs more to get all of these things out to people than it does to actually make them in some cases! Lastly, "taxes & fees" covers taxes assessed on all of this by the IRS and percentage fees that Kickstarter takes for itself and payment processing fees.

Rewards

We’ve been working on some excellent rewards for you! The primary reward is, of course, a fully illustrated guidebook to the Xylaria of the Cloud Forests of Ecuador: I am creating clear and elegant line drawings to illustrate nearly fifty species of these strange and beautiful fungi, and including complete keys for identification, and information on collecting, preserving, and examining these fungi, as well a chapter on their fascinating ecology.

Mock-up of the book cover. Design has not been finalized, yet.
Mock-up of the book cover. Design has not been finalized, yet.

Additionally, there is a gorgeous full-color photographic supplement including as many of the species as possible, with field photography from Ecuador by Danny Newman, a mycologist and photographer of global renown.

We’re also offering Xylaria-themed t-shirts, stickers, postcards, posters, and a custom-designed bandana featuring a Xylaria-themed paisley designed exclusively for this Kickstarter. See some sample images and mock-ups below, and check the sidebar for pricing. 

Any two reward tiers can be combined by simply pledging the full amount for both! We'll use a survey system for add-ons at the end of the campaign. If you're worried about your request getting lost because you can only select one tier, you can also email me with what you want the additional pledge money to go towards (CloudForestXylaria@gmail.com). You'll still have to fill out the survey at the end, though.

The stickers will be of the project logo, showing a Xylaria perithecium and spore! Perfect for sticking on things!
The stickers will be of the project logo, showing a Xylaria perithecium and spore! Perfect for sticking on things!

 

Sample of possible postcard designs using field photographs and line drawings.
Sample of possible postcard designs using field photographs and line drawings.

 

This Xylaria-themed bandana was designed exclusively for this Kickstarter! It will not be available anywhere else! They'll be printed with water-based inks on 100% cotton bandanas, measuring 22x22 inches.
This Xylaria-themed bandana was designed exclusively for this Kickstarter! It will not be available anywhere else! They'll be printed with water-based inks on 100% cotton bandanas, measuring 22x22 inches.

 

Mock-up of the t-shirt design, showing nine different species of Xylaria!
Mock-up of the t-shirt design, showing nine different species of Xylaria!

Also, all of the original drawings will be available as a special reward tier! 

Lastly, this book will describe at least one new species for the first time ever. If someone believes in this book enough to financially support a substantial portion of it, I will immortalize them in the mycological literature by naming a new species after them! 

And everyone that contributes, however much, will have a spot in the acknowledgements of the book, and a special place in my heart. Thank you all!

 

Risks and challenges

Most of the ancillary rewards are almost ready to go: we have completed design files for the handkerchief, the t-shirt, and most of the postcards. We are working with the inestimable team at MakeThatThing to make all the things, warehouse and ship all the things, and generally make sure that fulfillment goes smoothly.

The challenge, and the risk, is in the science. This is a big project; there's no doubt about that. This will be one of the most significant taxonomic works on Xylaria this century, and the first to include comprehensive illustrations. I've worked with these fungi for years as part of my dissertation, and have preliminary lists of species to include, drafts of several species descriptions, and completed illustrations for a handful of taxa. This gives me a pretty good idea of how much work is left: I estimate about a year of full-time work is needed to complete the book. That's not small, and lots of things can go wrong in the interim, but I have dedicated collaborators, more knowledge of this particular group of species than almost anyone else alive, more than 600 collections currently in my possession, agreements in place with the Ecuadorian National Herbarium in Quito and good working relationships with the head curator there, and all the equipment needed to make this taxonomic study possible.

There is some risk of the taxonomic work and illustration taking longer than anticipated, but I am committed to project, and even if this Kickstarter does not successfully fund, I will continue to work on Xylaria taxonomy on my own time; there is no chance that this will not eventually happen.

To address concerns about scientific rigor: the final taxonomic scheme for the book, and all descriptions and keys, will be vetted by Dr. Yu-Ming Ju, the recognized world expert in the genus. He has, personally, examined the type specimens of nearly all described Xylaria, and trained with xylariologist Dr. Jack D. Rogers, who will also review the book if he is able. I will also be seeking review by Dr. Thomas Læssøe, who has done more work with neotropical cloud forest Xylaria than anyone else alive, and several other scientists who work on the group. Publishing outside of a traditional academic publishing house makes the cost much more reasonable, which should increase the ability for libraries to acquire the volume, and make it accessible to amateur mycologists around the world; it will not impact the quality of the book.

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    Pledge $1 or more About $1.00

    ETERNAL GRATITUDE!

    Thank you for supporting science and art! You get our eternal gratitude, a mention in acknowledgement, and, as with all reward levels, updates on the project as it goes forward!

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    ADHESION!

    You get a high-quality sticker featuring the gorgeous perithecia and spore logo! Stick it on your laptop, your car, or your face! You also get a mention in the acknowledgements of the book, and project updates!

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    HANKIE PANKIE!

    You get the gorgeous Xylaria-themed paisley handkerchief! Blow your nose in the most fungal of styles! You also get a mention in the acknowledgements of the book, and, as always, project updates!

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    PDF EDITION!

    The book! Or the Colour Supplement! This is the PDF version of either book. Double your pledge for both PDFs (there will be a survey later)! You also get a mention in the acknowledgements of the book, and, as always, project updates!

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    POSTCARDS!

    A pack of 10 beautiful postcards! Five will be beautiful illustrations of Xylaria from the book, and the other five will be beautiful photographs of Xylaria from the supplement! You also get a mention in the acknowledgements of the book, and, as always, project updates!

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    POSTER!

    Amazing poster! An 18×24 in poster reminiscent of those charming old botanical informational posters that we all know and love! You also get a mention in the acknowledgements of the book, and, as always, project updates!

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    XYLARIA SHIRT!

    Embed your perithecia in this stylish shirt featuring nine different species of Xylaria! There's even an identification key on the back. You also get a mention in the acknowledgements of the book, and, as always, project updates!

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    XYLARIA OF THE CLOUD FOREST OF ECUADOR!

    The book! This is the book that will let you confidently identify Xylaria from the mist-shrouded mountain slopes of the Andes in Ecuador. Comes with a PDF version, too. Add $15 for the PDF of the colour supplement! You also get a mention in the acknowledgements of the book, and, as always, project updates!

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    XYLARIA COLOUR SUPPLEMENT!

    Full colour photo supplement to the book! This will aid in your identification of Xylaria from the mist-shrouded mountain slopes of the Andes in Ecuador. Comes with a PDF version, too. Add $15 for the PDF of the book! You also get a mention in the acknowledgements of the book, and, as always, project updates!

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    XYLARIA BOOK AND SUPPLEMENT!

    The book! And the colour supplement! And both PDFs! This is everything you need to help you identify Xylaria from the mist-shrouded mountain slopes of the Andes in Ecuador. You also get a mention in the acknowledgements of the book, and, as always, project updates!

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    ORIGINAL ART!

    You get one of the original drawings for the book! Archival ink on archival paper, about 5×8 in. You'll also get a copy of the book (or the colour supplement), and both PDFs! You also get a mention in the acknowledgements of the book, and, as always, project updates!

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    ORIGINAL ART SPECIES PAIR!

    You get both of the original drawings for a species from the book! Archival ink on archival paper, about 5×8 in. You'll also get a copy of the book (or the colour supplement), and both PDFs! You also get a mention in the acknowledgements of the book, and, as always, project updates!

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    WORKSHOP!

    Perfect for universities and mycological societies: I will give you and your group a full day workshop on either taxonomy and identification of Xylaria and other perithecial fungi, or the art of illustration! You also get both the book and the supplement, and both PDFs. Outside of Eugene, Oregon, you'll have to cover transport/lodging for me. You also get a mention in the acknowledgements of the book, and, as always, project updates!

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    WEEKEND MUSHROOM TOUR!

    A weekend with me, hunting mushrooms in the PNW! I'll take you on a guided tour of some of my favourite mushrooming spots in the Cascades and the Coast Range near Eugene! Xylarias and so much more! You also get both the book and the supplement, and both PDFs, a mention in the acknowledgements of the book, and, as always, project updates!

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    HONORARY EPONOMY!

    If you support the project at this level, I will immortalize you in the mycological literature by naming a new species after you! You will also get the pair of original illustrations for the species named after you, and the book and colour supplement, along with the PDFs, a mention in the acknowledgements of the book, and, as always, project updates!

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Funding period

- (30 days)