8/12/22: Mushroom mania

Last weekend's rain led to a forest full of fruiting fungi. I would ask you to say that ten times fast, but I just tried it and it wasn't that difficult. While I think of a more respectable tongue-twister, your time would be better spent reading about the following updates. Like last week, two full days were dedicated solely to waterlogging-related tasks as we extended a metaphorical flotation device to the maple trees and saved them from drowning. Respiration measurements and scanning in the forestry plots were our next focus, although my attention was commonly diverted to all of the mushrooms popping up in the soil around us. What do root responses to waterlogged soils and fruiting fungi have in common? Water! It's all about the water. Keep reading to learn more about the impacts of H₂O on roots and fungi.

Recorded photosynthesis measurements, traced, imaged, counted leaves, and harvested maples

We had Research Technician Fellows Elizabeth and Andrea to help us out with photosynthesis measurements, tracing, and harvesting this go around. Our volunteer Don stayed busy counting leaves. Lucky for him, the maples have far less than the magnolias, with most trees clocking in under 50 leaves. With that being said, some of the silver maples have 100+ leaves. This would be a good time to explain the differences we see between genera and species, and why we picked these species of trees for the waterlogging project.

To give you a brief run-down on how organisms are named and grouped, we can look towards the system of binomial nomenclature that Carolus Linnaeus first put forward in his 1735 book Systema Naturae. I fear that the name "Linnaeus" could dredge up unpleasant memories of middle-school science class. Some of you may have found the lessons on taxonomy and good ole' Carl to be quite boring, and that's okay. We get it Carl, you like naming things. To ease your mind and make this more engaging, I thought I could share something interesting about Linnaeus that isn't typically talked about. He was the original myth-buster! The first five editions of Systema Naturae had a group of organisms classified under Animalia Paradoxa. This included mythical creatures such as the Hydra, Siren, Phoenix, and more. Linnaeus listed these suspect animals in his early works for the purpose of investigating their reported locations and de-bunking their existence. If you're interested in learning more, check out this article in nature.

An excerpt from Linnaeus's Systema Naturae and Research Techs Elizabeth and Andrea tracing roots.

Okay, back to the trees! We chose congeneric species for our project. "Congeneric" means species belonging to the same genus. Remember Carl's binomial naming system that I mentioned earlier? This involves giving each organism a two name classification in the form of Genus species. In total, there are eight distinct taxonomical categories (Domain > Kingdom > Phylum > Class > Order > Family > Genus > Species), but species are typically addressed by their binomial and common names. We have two species in the maple genus: Acer saccharum (sugar maple) and Acer saccharinum (silver maple). We also have two species in the magnolia genus: Magnolia soulangeana (saucer magnolia) and Magnolia stellata (star magnolia). The reason behind choosing congeneric species is that they share similar root and leaf traits, but still show vastly different responses to waterlogging.

This brings us back around to our leaf counts. Both maple species have less leaves than the magnolias, but that's not the comparison we're really looking at. We want to understand the differences within the maple genus. This will give us much deeper insight into what strategies trees are using to cope with flooding. For instance, if you are trying to explain why a Corvette is faster than a Prius, it would be difficult to give a precise reason because they are such starkly different cars. For any gear-head out there, a more informative question would be something like "what specific differences between this year's Corvette model differ from last year's, and how does that impact car performance?" Let the record show that I know nothing about cars, but hopefully that analogy works well enough.

These are destructive harvests showing the complete root systems of waterlogged silver maples (larger, golden-ish roots) and waterlogged sugar maples (smaller, darker roots). If you remember from last week's update, we're harvesting these roots and stems for nonstructural carbohydrate analysis. They also serve as a great example of the different responses to waterlogging of species within the same genus. You can see that both root systems look similar in shape, size, and branching pattern. However, because silver maple is more tolerant to waterlogging, their root systems were better maintained during the two-week dunking period ... Also for any of you observant readers out there. Yes, Marvin is indeed smelling the roots in that picture. We use highly sophisticated tech in the Root Lab, including noses.

Partook in some forest foraging

With the rain comes the mushrooms, and with the mushrooms comes the excited foragers who can't wait to claim their bounties. What causes this rapid emergence of mushrooms? First, it would be helpful to describe what a mushroom actually is, and just what you are chewing on when you get a mouthful of Portobello from that veggie pizza you're dining on. Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi. Their sole purpose is to produce and disperse spores. The real "brain" of the fungi's operating system exists belowground in something called the mycelium. The mycelium consists of fungal threads that are root-like in nature, absorb water/nutrients, and can even move slowly throughout the soil. It is from this structure that the fruiting body, or mushroom, emerges. Think of a mushroom like a reproductive organ that disperses a genderless egg into the surrounding area. A single mushroom can release billions to trillions of spores. These spores do not have two distinct sexes like animal egg/sperm or a plant ovule/pollen, but the complexities of fungi reproductive cycles is something we can get into another time.

So what do mushrooms have to do with rain events? There are two stages of mushroom growth. The proto-mushroom stage lasts for weeks and occurs underground, during which little buttons or pin-like structures form in the mycelium. The second stage involves the underground pins absorbing water and expanding, causing them to emerge and unfold aboveground. This article offers a great explanation of this process and compares mushrooms to "tight bound structures, similar to a compressed, dried sponge that can expand rapidly when exposed to enough water" (Sanusi & Mansor 2016). Take a look below to see some of our finds this week.

I have officially run out of fake insect-related news outlet names

But never fear, I'll keep the pictures coming. This week we have some returning guests, see if you can ID them!

Check next week's update to see if you're a certified butterflyologist.