Mushrooms Panamas in the sights

Researcher creates for the first time complete species inventory of the native mushroom world

Pepper Earling USDA
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Panama's plant and animal life is unique and unusually diverse. By contrast, the realm of mushrooms is largely unexplored, which is why a German researcher has begun to inventorise the mushrooms of Panama. These are severely threatened by forest fires and climate change. They not only play an important role in maintaining the ecological balance, but their ingredients are often also pharmaceutically significant - such as the bactericidal penicillin fungus.

"The knowledge of the mushrooms of Panama is very fragmentary and scattered around the world, " explains Meike Piepenbring from the Institute for Ecology, Evolution and Diversity at the University of Frankfurt. Piepenbring has collected data from about 300 different publications for the first checklist of panamanian mushrooms. German and Panamanian mycologists are working together to expand this mushroom checklist. For this, species are collected, described and named.

This often resembles arduous detective work, because before you can name and classify a new mushroom properly, you have to make sure that it has not been described many years ago by another researcher. The old descriptions are often insufficient for a precise determination, which is why the researchers study old herbarium specimens for comparison. These in turn, however, often consist only of fragments. Also, much more features are now being identified for the description and systematic classification of species than before. In addition to light microscopy, mycologists also use scanning and transmission electron microscopy and the base sequences of selected DNA segments.

The Frankfurt mycologist is worried that the great biodiversity is being irretrievably lost due to the extensive destruction of primeval forests. In addition, there has been a significant climate change for several years. Rainy and dry periods no longer alternate at specific times of the year, but begin and end unpredictably. Organisms adapted to a regular seasonal change will be difficult to survive and will be displaced by comparatively few more flexible species.

With her teaching she tries to sensitize the local people to this problem: "For the Panamanians living in the countryside the high biodiversity is common, but for the people in the cities it is partly completely unknown", explains Piepenbring, "Because of us As German scientists study biodiversity with great enthusiasm, we show what great riches the Panamanians possess and increasingly lose. " display

(idw - Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt (Main), 07.05.2007 - AHE)