Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Guess who probably won't be blogging anytime soon

A little more Alabamiana. Harper Lee, author of "To Kill a Mockingbird", just made a public statement for the first time since, well, probably before I was born. Congrats to her and Hank Aaron for these plaudits.

Chicken Rocket

Not so much a fungus thang, as perhaps an Alabama thang. We've recently invested $2.21 in a Chicken Rocket for the preparation of "drunken chicken". The idea is fairly simple: take 1 chicken, and 1/2 -3/4 can of beer (okay half a can and drink the other half), and some delicious seasoning rub. Put the beer can up the chicken's (ahem) larger cavity and rub it all over with the salt. Stuff a potato or MUSHROOM in the other smaller cavity (neckhole) to prevent the goodness from escaping. Then put on the grill or smoker for an hour or two. Eat, and be merry (but I wouldn't recommend drinking the rest of that particular beer, you know where IT'S been).


Yum yum yum yum yum. Good stuff.
We recently tried this with Yuengling's, which is now readily available here, which we call "Yuengling up the yin-yang"

Dead Man's Foot

The fungus of the moment is Pisolithus tinctorius, the dead man's foot (or also the "dog turd fungus". It is so named for the shape of the fruiting body, which erupts out of the earth like the start of a zombie invasion.
Actually, this fungus is one of the "good guys", in that it is ectomycorrhizal. Okay, so decaying otherwise recalcitrant matter is not bad, and being a pathogen is bad if you're a pathogen that people want to use is bad from the perspective of the people who are in competition with the pathogen, but mycorrhizal species are considered "good" by most people. Mycorrhizas (alt. mycorrhizae) are considered mutualistic symbioses between fungi and plant roots. Fungi, being fundamentally microorganisms, can explore the soil much better than plant roots, because of their high surface-volume ratio. Thus they can get at nutrients like phosphorus and other elements that plants need from soil better than the plants themselves. In return for their superior soil scavenging services, the fungi get paid in carbon, sugar, photosynthate, which the plants make from carbon dioxide in the air and send down to their roots.
Spores of dead man's foot are commonly sown in with pine seedlings to help them to get established.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

MSA meeting notes

Hi ho,
Just got back from Baton Rouge, where it was very hot and sticky. Gave my talk, and presented my poster, which were OK.
It was good to see a lot of folks, and make some new myco-friends as well. I didn't go to too many talks, as I was yakking with folks, catching up, etc. But I did see a few really interesting talks on things like the fungi that inhabit sand on the beaches of Mexico and Cuba, slime molds of Hawai'i,
giant sporocarps of AM fungi, yeasts that live in the guts of beetles that live in mushrooms (fungus within insect within fungus!), fungi that live in midwestern prairies, and in the high alpine Rockies. Fungi from Ethiopia, and Switzerland, and Polynesia, and the Caribbean, and Civil War battlefields, etc, etc, etc.

I found out there is a mycologist at 'Bama, but there are more at Auburn! Boo yaa!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Off to MSA

That's the Mycological Society of America, of course. Not the Mineralogical Society of America, nor the Company that sells firefighting gear. Nor any of many other MSAs.
Next week is the Annual Meeting of the Mycological Society of America, which is in Baton Rouge, LA. The foray (mushroom hunting field trip) is tomorrow, but I'll be collecting bugs again. It's the 75th anniversary of the founding of the MSA, so that's exciting if you're some type of super-duper nerd who cares about fungi and important anniversary numbers which are divisible by 3, 5, 15, and 25. Of course, I don't expect to see any of the original members, so that's also notable.
But it will be some good myco-nerd fun, for sure. I look forward to geeking out with some of my far flung fungo-homies. And I'm giving a talk and a poster about some stuff I did in South Africa, involving the fungus that produces that lovely conidiophore seen above.
Perhaps I'll fill in as I go, perhaps I'll chat up this very blog. Who knows...

Okay, I must finish writing my talk... I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Highlights of the root dig

Spent a good part of last week digging roots over in Georgia. My dissertation is a study of the decline of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) and the role of Leptographium spp. and their insect vectors. What that means is I spend a lot of time collecting small beetles and "rolling" them to find out what fungi they're carrying. And it also means I go out and occasionally dig up some pine roots to see what fungi the insects may have introduced into the trees.

When digging roots, we also collect soil to see if the fungi may be just hanging out in the soil next to the roots (they usually aren't), and a few other things to try and figure out how the trees have been affected by the fungi and insects. This particular root, above, is notably munched up by insects. All those little white bits are where the insects chewed in and pitch came running out.

Another highlight of the root dig was coming upon this critter, a pine snake.
What do pine snakes have to do with fungi? If you'll indulge...
Red Cockaded Woodpeckers are an endangered species. Lots of folks around here hate the little bird because it ties 'em up in lots of "green tape". They are endangered because their preferred habitat is longleaf pine forest, which used to be all over and is now quite rare. This is the only woodpecker, so far as I know, that makes its nesting cavities in live trees. Why make your house in a live tree? Because of these pine snakes, which can climb a pine tree and raid your eggs. The woodpecker pecks holes around the entrance to the cavity to release the resin which acts as a deterrent to the snake. Eww! Sticky snake!
But where do the fungi come in? So the woodpeckers also prefers trees that are infected with Phellinus pini, which is a wood decay fungus causing a disease called red heart, which breaks down some of the cellulose in the wood which makes it easier to excavate. Hey, if you had to dig your house out of a live tree with your face, wouldn't you want the softest tree possible?

Then I had to head back out to the woods on Monday, to collect insects, and I came across this little guy. Not sure, but I think it's a baby cottonmouth. I'll get back to you on that.