Internationally recognized mushroom researcher Bart Buyck recently visited the East Texas woods to contribute to inventory work conducted through the Thicket of Diversity All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory. Working with Bart is Valerie Hofstetter of the Department of Plant Protection at Agroscope in Nyon, Switzerland. Valerie analyzes the fungi collected for their DNA sequences, which ties in to their classification.
Buyck obtained his Ph.D in 1989 at the University of Gent, Belgium. He received the Augustin Pyramus de Candolle prize of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Geneva, Switzerland. He continued his research in Belgium and Central Africa and since 1996 joined the Laboratoire de Cryptogamie of the National Natural History Museum in Paris, France. There he serves as Associate Professor in the Department of Systematics and Evolution where he is also curator of the Mycology Herbarium.
Buyck has collected edible and ectomycorrhizal mushrooms on several continents for more than 30 years and is especially interested in one particular group of mushrooms, Russula. With distinctive umbrella shaped caps on stems, these fungi are commonly found in the major types of forests on earth. This mushroom genus was first described in 1796, and over 750 species have been identified to date, yet most Russulas still remain undescribed and Buyck estimates the number of different Russula species in the United States alone to be likely as much as 1,500. Russula mushrooms are not easy to identify and distinguishing individual species usually involves observation of its microscopic characteristics or a taste test. Bart’s work includes the development of a software program, ALLRUS, to assist in the identification and classification of Russula. Most members of this fleshy fungi group are edible, but some can cause gastrointestinal symptoms when eaten raw or undercooked.
Buyck is also a world authority on the genus Cantharellus and described 5 new species of chanterelles from East Texas, including Cantharellus texensis, a species that was originally described from the Lance Rosier Unit of the Big Thicket National Preserve. Cantharellus is a worldwide genus of mushrooms known for their edibility.
Ectomycorrhizal macro-fungi such as Russula and Cantharellus form a symbiotic relationship with roots of various woody plant species. This means that spore producing fungi, like mushrooms, live compatibly with unlike organisms such as pines, oaks or beech. This is of great ecological importance for the survival and maintenance of our forests as these fungi provide the trees with nutrients and water through these root connections. Research is of benefit as monitoring of changes in fungal communities, especially of ectomycorrhizas, could serve as an early warning indicator of environmental change.
According to the Big Thicket Association (BTA) website, Bart Buyck is one of 3 scientists who described a rare, new species to science in 2008 for the Big Thicket, Russula texensis. The BTA is very supportive of macrofungi research. On June 14, 2014 a mushroom foray was conducted at the Preserve’s Field Research Station with David Lewis, President of the Gulf States Mycological Society. Approximately 27 volunteers, equipped with a Park Service permit, trowels and collecting baskets, traipsed the woods near Saratoga in search of macro-fungi. The event was quite successful as the group acquired over 200 specimens which are currently being identified. This information along with Buyck’s data will be entered into a national database housed by Big Thicket National Preserve.
Buyck’s inventory work entitled, “Root-symbiotic fungi: key players in the forest ecosystems of the Big Thicket,” was made possible through a Park Partnership matching fund grant between the Big Thicket Association and the National Park Service. To view the most recent inventory data go to www.thicketofdiversity.org., click on Science and then Taxa Tally.
2013 Accomplishments of Thicket of Diversity
By Scott Solomon
When it comes to learning about biological diversity, nothing beats “diving headfirst into nature.”
That’s the way Olivia Ragni, Duncan College senior and a student in Rice’s Biological Diversity Lab (EBIO 327), described her experience this October when she and her classmates joined forces with local experts to conduct an inventory of the flora and fauna of the Big Thicket National Preserve near Kountze, TX.
The students were joined by Dr. Nancy Grieg (Director of the Cockrell Butterfly Center at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences), Dr. Cassidy Johnson (Houston Toad Research Coordinator at the Houston Zoo), Dr. Kevin W. Conway (Assistant Professor and Curator of Fishes at Texas A&M University), Dr. Cin-Ty Lee (Professor of Earth Science at Rice and an expert on birds), Dr. Evan Siemann (Professor and Chair of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Rice), and David P. Lewis (President of the Gulf Coast Mycological Society).
Following a short trip to become familiar with the Turkey Creek Unit of the preserve, the students corresponded with their expert volunteers to develop a plan for the survey. Then they rolled up their sleeves and got busy doing the hard work of identifying as many species as they could over the weekend of October 18-20.
To complete the survey, the students worked in groups alongside their expert volunteers for an entire day searching for as many individuals of their focal group as possible. For some, like the fungus group, this simply meant walking slowly through the forest and carefully looking for mushrooms. Others, like the butterfly and dragonfly groups, had to chase their targets with nets. The bird and mammal group had a stealthier technique—they used motion detecting “camera traps” to photograph any animal that walked or flew past their study sites. Other groups—like those surveying reptiles, amphibians, and ants—used pitfall traps dug into the ground to see what accidentally fell in. The fish group had perhaps the most challenging task—wading in the chest-deep waters of Village Creek with a large net suspended between two poles.
Thanks to a Charles Duncan Award for Instruction in Natural Sciences, each group was equipped with a GPS-enabled digital camera that they used to photograph each species they encountered. Although some samples of insects, trees, and mushrooms had to be brought back to the lab for more careful identification, the cameras allowed the students to complete the survey without sacrificing the lives of most of their organisms.
The students are still working on identifying their samples, but preliminary results suggest that, collectively, the group observed nearly 200 different species, including 8 mammals, 25 birds, 7 reptiles, 3 amphibians, 11 fish, 16 butterflies and moths, 10 ants, 24 trees, and 84 fungi!
The students will be posting their images—along with the species’ name and the precise location where it was observed—on iNaturalist.org, a website that allows anyone with an interest in the natural world to document observations. Their data will contribute to the Thicket of Diversity project, an effort by the Big Thicket Association to document every living thing within the Big Thicket Region of Texas.
For some students, the survey was an opportunity to do something completely new.
“Having grown up in an urban environment my entire life, it was really nice to experience what nature was like,” added Yakira Alford, a senior at McMurtry College. “I was honestly afraid of being in the woods at first, but it turned out to be an enriching experience."
Even students with more outdoors experience, like McMurtry senior Sena McRory, found the project rewarding.
“I enjoyed the chance to get out in the field and collect my own samples - when doing field work you never know exactly what to expect and that element of unknown makes the experience more exciting. I also enjoyed talking with the other experts about their careers and unique experiences in a more casual, non-classroom setting,” she said.
Kelsey Wooddell, a senior at Duncan College, agreed. “My favorite part of the experience was seeing the passion of the experts working in the field with us.”
Next year’s class plans to return to the same site and continue surveying the Big Thicket National Preserve, adding new observations to a growing compendium of biological diversity.
Kountze High School Project funded by Entergy Grant