BOZEMAN, Mont. -- Armed guards once kept polar bears away while Cathy Cripps collected mushrooms and fungi on the island of Svalbard between Norway and the North Pole. Another time, Cripps encountered musk-oxen while gathering fungi in Greenland.
It's no wonder, then, that some of the world's top experts on fungi asked if they would face grizzly bears in Montana, said Cripps, a Montana State University mycologist who hosted a recent International Symposium on Arctic-Alpine Mycology. Cripps is president of ISAM and curator of the MSU fungi collection.
Mycologists from 10 countries collected fungi and mushrooms above tree line in the Beartooth Mountains near Red Lodge, Mont., in August. It was the first time scientists collected fungi in the alpine regions of the Rockies in a large group, Cripps said. It was also the first time since 1980 that ISAM met in the United States.
No one encountered grizzlies, but Cripps said they did enjoy mountain goats and wild flowers while finding more than 80 species of fungi. At least four of the species are new to science. Carrying red bags so they could spot each other from a distance, the scientists collected mushrooms above ground that indicated fungal mycelium below ground. Cripps said she was happy that smoke from area forest fires had disappeared and that the snow was still melting, providing plenty of moisture for fungal specimens.
"We were particularly looking at fungi important to plant sustainability," Cripps said. "Most plants cannot survive in these habitats without fungi on their roots or fungi to recycle nutrients into the soil. The fungi act as Mother Nature's fertilizer."
About eight percent of the Earth's land surface is covered by arctic or alpine habitat, so the fungi that grow there are important, Cripps continued.
"Without arctic and alpine fungi, most plants would not be able to survive in these habitats, and animals depend on plants for nutrition and
|Contact: Evelyn Boswell|
Montana State University