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New Mushroom Species Identified at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area

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In June 2009, scientists conducted a BioBlitz, an intensive 24-hour all species count at Soapstone Prairie Natural Area. A fungus discovered during the event has recently been classified as “new to scienceâ€. The mushroom is a brand new species within a rare genus, Smithiomyces. City of Fort Collins Natural Areas are often used as an outdoor laboratory for scientists, in fact over 20 research permits were granted in 2010. Visitors to natural areas are not permitted to collect any material, including mushrooms.

The Soapstone Prairie mushroom specimen was discovered by Jack Jones, with Ed Lubow, Marc Donsky, Nora Jones and Rob Hallock (the mycology team) as part of the BioBlitz. It was first entered into the Denver Botanic Gardens herbarium as the genus Amanita, but it perplexed scientists because the spores did not correspond to an Amanita. Vera Evenson, Curator of the Sam Mitchel Herbarium of Fungi at the Denver Botanic Gardens worked to identify the specimen with Dr. Bradley Kropp of the Intermountain Herbarium and Utah State University. He studies fungi associated with mountain mahogany (a foothills shrub). Dr. Kropp had found a similar mushroom in Utah, so his specimen and the Soapstone Prairie specimen were further analyzed by Dr. Timothy Baroni, a distinguished professor and fungal geneticist at State University of New York, Cortland. He found a genetic match with a very unusual genus, Smithiomyces.

Together, Evenson, Kropp and Baroni did the technical work to identify the new species. Until now there were thought to be only two species in the Smithiomyces genus, and this type of mushroom was found only in tropical places such as Mexico, Brazil and Florida. Further work will investigate the ecology of the species. A poster at the Mycological Society of America meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska in August will highlight the new species, Smithiomyces crocodilinus.

Thank you Fort Collins and Larimer County voters! Your citizen-initiated sales tax dollars conserve natural areas and provide important research sites such as Soapstone Prairie Natural Area.