A mycorrhiza is the name for a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and the roots of a vascular plant. Many of our favorite edible mushrooms, such as the boletes and chanterelles, are mycorrhizal. They will not grow anywhere except under their favored species of plant, often a conifer tree.
The fungus benefits from the relationship, as the tree is able to photosynthesize carbohydrates that deliver energy to the mycelium, the underground portion of the fungal organism. However, the tree also benefits, as the more evolved biochemistry of the Kingdom of Fungi facilitates the concentration and delivery of soil nutrients such as phosphates and selenium to the tree roots. The mycorrhizal complex is also more water-absorbent and resistant to drought than the bare roots, and may harbor nitrogen-fixing bacteria that allow the trees to colonize nitrogen-poor soils.
Northern Arizona University is a leading center for ecology and forestry research, and the study of mycorrhizal relationships is an important part of both of these fields. Two NAU faculty scientists who are recognized experts in this subject, Dr. Catherine Gehring and Dr. Nancy Collins Johnson, have been asked by the International Mycorrhiza Society to oversee the 8th International Conference on Mycorrhiza (ICOM8).
This important scientific meeting will take place on the NAU campus in Flagstaff on August 3 through August 7 this year (2015). Over 600 registrants are expected, as well as a number of commercial exhibitors and sponsors. There will be a full schedule of indoors scientific lectures, symposia, and poster sessions, in addition to outdoor field trips such as a mushroom foray on the San Francisco Peaks.
Note that this is a scientific meeting that is not open to the general public, but requires advance registration and payment of a non-trivial fee to attend. I know a certain number of our readers are scientific sorts who might already be planning to attend this event in a professional capacity. For the rest of us, the discussion is likely to be at a level well above our heads, but perhaps a very interested and knowledgeable amateur may wish to register. The International Mycorrhizal Society welcomes applications for membership from “researchers, scientists, technicians, managers, engaged in works and projects on mycorrhizae and also simply individuals fascinated by plant symbiosis.” That undoubtedly describes a lot of us! Who knows, perhaps you’ll be inspired to take it even further and become a real mycologist.
Those who are unable to register for the entire conference may nonetheless wish to attend the public lecture to be given on Monday evening, Aug. 3rd, by eminent Berkeley mycologist Dr. Tom Bruns.
Advance registration closes May 1st.
- 8th International Conference on Mycorrhiza – Northern Arizona University
- ICOM8 Facebook Page
- International Mycorrhiza Society
- IMS Facebook Page
- NAU Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research
She would also appreciate the Arizona amateur fungal community’s help in collecting a display of local mycorrhizal species for the conference. The meeting has been timed to coincide with the peak of our fungal season in early August, so if you are interested in taking part in a “mycoblitz“, pencil in your calendar for Saturday/Sunday August 1st and 2nd.
I will be leaving the Valley early that morning and heading for the Mogollon Rim or Flagstaff, depending on where the rains have fallen. I’ll pick a few samples of every kind of mycorrhizal fruiting body I see, then head on to Flagstaff that night, and go out to the San Francisco Peaks early Sunday for another round. We’ll drop off our finds in the early afternoon, and perhaps spend some time identifying and organizing them for the display table. Anyone who wishes to come along would be most welcome. I’ll have 3 extra seats in my truck, or we can convoy.
This trip will not be directed at filling your basket full of edibles, although there will likely be plenty of opportunity to do so if you wish. Rather, the object is to collect representatives of many local species for educational/scientific purposes, regardless of edibility or toxicity. Varieties that are specific to the region would be especially sought for display to the 600 mushroom experts coming to Flagstaff from all over the world, e.g. such flashy species as Barrows’ bolete, Boletus barrowsii; the Rocky Mountain red-capped king bolete, Boletus rubriceps; and Amanita “cochiseana”, our local version of the Caesar’s amanita.
While experienced mycophiles would be particularly helpful for identifying our collections, rank beginners are also warmly invited, in order to maximize the variety and quantity of the species we collect.
There is one other way that local amateurs can participate in the conference. On Wednesday, Aug. 5, there will be a mushroom foray in the Flagstaff area for conference attendees who want to go out in the field to learn more about the Arizona mycoflora. Dr. Gehring could use help from a limited number of local amateurs who are capable of helping her with identification. You would have to be an intermediate or expert level collector who is knowledgeable enough to be comfortable talking about details of local species with visiting professional mycologists, and you’d need to provide your own transportation. I will be working that day but if you would like to take part, please let me know and I will pass your contact info along to Dr.Gehring.]