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Green stars of the forest

Posted on 25-09-2012 by Redactie

Not so long ago, gods and witchcraft were the main explanations for natural phenomena. Nowadays scientists and science can explain even the most incredible findings. However, in the night of the tropical rainforest we found something that would make even the most rational scientist wonder about the magical world.

In an expedition such as this, where you have a time window of only two weeks and the ambition to sample as many species as possible of the fungal world, you must walk in the limbo of tiredness and making the most out of this opportunity. The usual expedition biologist goes out to the field in the break of dawn and returns to camp with precious material and amazing findings by sunset. After that, a big part of the night is spent processing and storing the material, checking colleagues findings and of course taking the so much needed rest to be able to do it all over again in the next day. However, if you always follow the standard procedures, you risk missing out on wonderful discoveries.

Thats why Jzsef Geml (my fellow mycologist and supervisor) and I try to keep an open mind and go outside the box for fungal research. Guided by the discovering spirits of Persoon and Wallace, we also walk the forest after sunset, wishing to see the light some fungi emit. Glowing mushrooms are rare but they do exist outside the psychedelic world. This phenomenon is known as bioluminescence and can only be seen in the complete darkness of the jungle night. During daytime one might pass by and even photograph them without knowing it, but only a nocturnal excursion reveals this incredible phenomenon that remains hidden in plain daylight.

Bioluminescence is the result of an oxidation process, and it is not at all well documented in the fungal world. In fact, it is only known for a few fungal species and this discovery will most likely add new species to the list and contribute to its understanding.

Bioluminescence in fungi most likely is a highly evolved strategy for spore dispersal as the fungus attracts insects that can carry the spores to new substrates. While most mushroom spores are air dispersed, hitching a ride on insects may be particularly advantageous in the rainforest, where wind is minimal. However, after witnessing such an incredible phenomenon one cant stop wondering about the far-fetched theories that surround the magical world of fungi.

Luis Morgado

Posted in Borneo expeditions | Tagged borneo, expeditions,