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600 species of mushrooms discovered in Guyana

A whole lot of fungi in Guyana: an estimated 600 of 1200 species are new to science

600 species of mushrooms discovered in Guyana
Jeremy Hance,
July 21, 2008

In six plots of Guyanese rainforest, measuring only a hundred square meters each, scientists have discovered an astounding 1200 species of macrofungi, commonly known as mushrooms. Even more surprising: they believe over 600 of these are new to science — that’s equivalent to a new species every square meter.

The mycologists (scientists who study fungi) have spent seven years documenting fungi in these plots. “Time in the bush is limited — it takes me more than half an hour to fully document a single collection,” Dr. M. Catherine Aime, a member of the study, told “Since we are in the field most of the day and daylight is limited, this means I can only fully work up (i.e. voucher) about 10 collections a day.”

Lactarius brunellus (new species described from Guyana in 2002)

An undescribed species of Mycena

Amauroderma gusmanianum (a tropical species)

Current estimates of the total number of fungi in the world are around 1.5 million. To date approximately 7-10 percent of the 1.5 million guessed-at species have been described. “It’s probably safe to say fungi haven’t been thoroughly studied anywhere, although tropical studies are particularly lacking,” Dr. Aime says.

One hypothesis is that most of the remaining unnamed fungi are cryptic microfungi, which include molds, rusts, and mildews. However, taking into account the new discoveries of Aime and her colleagues, mushrooms appear more diverse than expected. Aime calls the 1.5 million estimate “conservative”; she believes that eventually scientists will have to significantly revise their estimated number of fungi. Alluding to her own work, she says: “There are many more species out there that I just physically have not had the time to voucher yet. And that’s just the macrofungi — one can only guess how many cryptic fruiters and microfungi there are…”

One intriguing discovery from Guyana has gained particular interest from fellow mycologists. A new genus and species of macrofungi, called Pseudotulostoma volvata, has described as the “Fungus of the Century” by the journal, Mycological Research. “This one is a new genus that is very unusual” Aime said. “[It is] ectomycorrhial [symbiotic with trees], persistent (lasts for months), big, and, incredibly, is related to Penicillium and other molds. A genus is a group of organisms that ranks higher than species; typically, when new genera of animals, for instance, are discovered they make big news. Yet, incredibly, we believe that Pseudotulostoma is not the only new genus we have found in Guyana.”

New genus of undescribed gasteromycete

Photos courtesy of Dr. M. Catherine Aime

Even if the number of fungi species is found to be only 1.5 million, the naming and describing of all of them would drastically alter the number of species of life known. Currently, only 1.8 million species of plants, animals, and fungi are known to science.

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