Last updated: June 2, 2020
It started as a personal project. Biological technician Sarah Daugherty would be out collecting data for the Eastern Rivers and Mountains Network’s forest health monitoring program, and notice so many cool mushrooms. It was hard not to notice them. Their striking colors, unusual forms, or foul smells stood out, especially to a fan of fungi. She started taking photos and jotting down what she saw.
As Sarah’s list of mushrooms grew, she checked NPSpecies, the searchable National Park Service species database, to see if the species she was seeing had been previously documented in the parks. Most species were nowhere to be found. Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area was the only park with a robust list. Surveys of fungi in the other network parks were evidently few and far between, if they existed at all.
Discussing her discoveries with her colleagues, everyone agreed that Sarah should turn her observations into a more formal fungi inventory. After all, there is more to fungi than their fascinating fruiting bodies (aka mushrooms). Scientists like to study fungi because they are vital to the healthy functioning of ecosystems. For example, fungi help with decomposition and nutrient cycling. They provide nutrients to trees and other plants. Some plants, like ghost plants and pink lady’s slippers, could not survive without help from their fungal partners. Below the ground, expansive networks of fungi help stabilize and aerate soils. Fungi also help create habitat in standing and downed trees for many birds and mammals. On top of that, many mushrooms provide tasty meals for wildlife.
Thus, during the summers of 2017 and 2018, Sarah recorded the interesting fungi she encountered during the course of her regular forest health monitoring field work. She took photos of some species to serve as a vouchers. Many she could identify on the spot, but for others she took extra photos and detailed notes to identify them later. Once in awhile she also collected specimens to create spore prints for identification.
The inventory yielded some exciting results. For example, Sarah found 39 species of fungi in Gauley River National Recreation Area, where no NPSpecies records existed at all. More exciting still, she found 53 species in New River Gorge National River, more than doubling the number of fungi species known from the park.
Soon, these results will be verified and added to the NPSpecies database. There they may be able to help curious park visitors identify their own cool fungi finds. Having the findings available could also provide a better baseline for comparison for scientists conducting similar surveys in the future.
Even though Sarah’s fungi inventory has taught us a lot, it still only paints a partial picture of fungal diversity in the parks. For example, the inventory doesn’t tell us what fungi might be present at other times of the year, or in other park habitats. As a result, it can also inspire us to wonder what else is out there, still waiting to be spotted!
Want to do more than wonder? You can help out any time you go out for a hike by using apps like iNaturalist to share photos and locations of the fungi and other species that you see. The iNaturalist community identifies and verifies what’s in the photos, so that your sightings can serve to fill in the blanks about what species occur where.
[Note: Collecting or disturbing mushrooms is prohibited on many national park service lands. However, in some parks, small amounts of edible mushrooms may be collected for personal use, limited to a maximum quantity per person per day. Note that many mushrooms are poisonous and should not be eaten unless you are able to correctly identify the species and know that it is edible. Collecting mushrooms for research or educational purposes may be allowed, but requires a permit. For more information, please visit park websites for regulations on mushroom collecting in specific parks.]
For More Information
Contact Stephanie Perles.
Daugherty S and Perles S. 2019. Opportunistic inventory of fungi in Eastern Rivers and Mountains Network parks. Natural Resource Report. NPS/ERMN/NRR—2019/2021. National Park Service. Fort Collins, Colorado
Summary by Jessica Weinberg McClosky for the Eastern Rivers & Mountains Network, March 2019.
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