Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Termite mushrooms!

Mushroom fruiting from a subterranean termite "fungus farm." Certain species of termites (there are at least half a dozen species in the Sakaerat bioreserve) feed leaf litter to a mass of fungal mycelium and harvest small lumps from the farm. The coevolutionary relationships and history of the termites+Termitomyces fungi are quite complex, but generally the two are in an obligate symbiosis--that is, the termite can't survive without the fungus, and the fungus can't survive without the termite.
While Termitomyces do have somewhat distinctive morphology, to absolutely identify them as such and to see which species of termite they are associating with the farm and stipe of the fruiting body are carefully excavated.

A different species of Termitomyces. For this species of termite, the farms are in multiple small chambers. Most of the time, the farm exists in this form. The formation of a mushroom is an irregular occurrence, and the presence of a mushroom may indicate that the farm wasn't harvested enough or the termite colony as died off.

Yet another species. These "farms" are larger. 

The small white lumps are almost ready to be harvested. 
The brown mushrooms on the left are a species of Termitomyces (called "Het Kohn") for sale at a roadside stand. They are sought-after culinary mushrooms and demand high prices, largely because people aren't as good as the termites at cultivating Termitomyces.

Many thanks to termite researcher Dr. Yamada, who took me out to see the local termites and Termitomyces. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Recent activities in Thailand

After the 10th International Mycological Congress, I wandered around in Bangkok for a little under a week, figuring out what to do next. 

Through some professors at a local university, I joined a group of Thai Department of Agriculture researchers promoting the use of two biofertilizers to farmers in Khukhan province during an annual provincial agricultural exhibition (think Thai equivalent of a state fair). 
The biofertilizers: Rhizobium, which is a genus of soil bacteria that associate with the roots of legumes and fix nitrogen, inoculant for legume cultivation, and Azolla (a genus of small aquatic ferns that float on the surface of the water in rice paddies) that associate closely with Anabaena, a cyanobacteria capable of fixing nitrogen into a form that rice can access. The goal of these biofertilizers is to reduce the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer in agriculture. 

The fair had some interesting mushroom-related booths -- I had to guess based on the pictures because I was the only person there who wasn't Thai and few people spoke English. Fortunately I was already somewhat familiar with the common socio-agri-mycological topics of the area. One booth dedicated to conservation of wildlife had a large poster with pictures of various native and rare fungi, one was dedicated to mushroom cultivation (mostly Pleurotus and Ganoderma), and one was dedicated either to the collection of wild Amanita aff. caesarea in dipterocarp forests or the attempts to create dipterocarp+Amanita plantations to reduce poaching/increase production. I wasn't clear on that one because it was adjacent to some cultivation booths, but I know the species associates so closely with trees that it can't be cultivated on its own.

A notable takeaway from the fair, besides the cultural immersion, was simply that mushrooms, cultivated and wild, are included as a valid, recognized, and valued food resource in the local system. If I encountered evidence of that at a state fair in Arkansas, I would be shocked. 

Rubber trees at a farm in Khukhan province, Thailand (near Cambodia)

Irrigation canal

A marching band before the opening ceremony of the agricultural exposition/fair. A rather surreal sight coming from New Orleans. 

Thai traditional dancers and local government officials at the opening ceremony.

Close-up of a silk moth at a booth on sericulture.

Silk from start to finish.
On the trip back we went to two ancient structures -- one right on the border has a peculiar history because it was declared to be Cambodian though it was on Thai land, so we could only see it from a distance. Perhaps I'll visit it from the Cambodian direction later. This temple/palace was on the way back to Bangkok, but I can't recall the name.

Very beautiful, but my camera battery died so I couldn't get many photos.

After the fair, I returned to Bangkok for one night, then headed out to Sakaerat Environmental Research Station and Biosphere Reserve, a three hour drive from Bangkok. As soon as I arrived I thought it was a special place, particularly after spending a couple weeks in Bangkok. 

I rudely interrupted these stunning insects during our first foray into the forest.

In the dry evergreen forest, there is a 40 meter tall tower and weather station. From (nearly) the top, you can see out over the canopy.

Panorama from above the tree canopy. This was only a fraction of the view.

After climbing the tower (more pictures of the climb and the view are on my Flickr account, see sidebar)
Thanks so much to the wonderful people at Kasetsart University!

I'll upload a post about Sakaerat's mushrooms and conservation goals soon!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Highlights from the Mushroom Research Centre workshop of Northern Thailand diversity (July 28- August 2)

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Most days of the workshop consisted of a collection foray to a local forest in the morning, and an evening in the lab. Many participants were collecting for a specific project, but I took the workshop as an opportunity to hike, work on my mushroom photography, learn how to morphologically identify more mushrooms to genus, and ask other participants about their work. More pictures are on my Flickr photostream (on the right bar of the blog).

Mycologists in their natural habitat.

This Cookeina sp. was particularly large and impressive. This genus is often called "eyelash cup fungus" for obvious reasons.

Thailand has a high diversity and abundance of Ophiocordyceps s.l. species. These fungi parasitize various insects and arachnids and fruit spectacularly from their corpses.

Some sort of coralline fungus (Calocera ?) appearing through the leaf litter.

The exoskeleton of a cicada, shed on the underside of an old polypore fungus. When I found it, there was an ant crawling across the mold growing on the exoskeleton left on a fungus, which was also growing mold. Peculiar interactions.

Termitomyces sp. for sale at a roadside stand. This genus is distinctive-- the pointed cone on top is quite solid and often coated in dirt, evidence of how they have to push their way through packed soil. This genus is named for its obligate symbiotic relationship with termites, which "farm" fungal mycelium. The mushroom fruits from the cultivated mass in an underground termite colony. They are widely eaten and command a relatively high price.

This bolete is being parasitised by another fungus.

This fungus typically fruits from pine cones.

A typical collection box containing small/fragile specimens. Larger collections are wrapped in tin foil and placed in a basket.

One of my favorite shots of a very small Xylaria that had almost completely covered a large log.

Eske takes pictures with intensity for her taxonomic research.
A beautiful Amanita. The cap was covered in fragile, powdery "warts" that crumbled at the lightest touch.
A very unusual Boletus that either collects or exudes liquid.

One day, these dogs followed us from start to finish.

The view from one of the day's hikes.

These were very small but striking.

A milk cap exuding "milk/latex" from a small cut. Member of the genus Lactarius or the newly (ish) described Lactifluus 

A member of the genus Phallus.

The only picture of me from the field, with backpack, camera bag, collection box, and anti-mosquito jacket. Thanks Henri.
Beautiful fungus - Panellus sp.
"Bruising" response of a bolete
Taken by Alvin Tang-- group picture of most of us.

Bamboo forest.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Opening ceremony IMC10

Ganoderma/reishi/lingzhi tea

Ganoderma species have a long history of use in traditional medicine. I purchased some dried sliced Ganoderma at Maejo University. Pieces of the mushroom are boiled in water until the water is brown and the tea tastes "right." The taste: exactly what you'd think mushroom tea would taste like, plus a quite bitter aftertaste.