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'SpongeBob' mushroom discovered in the forests of Borneo

forma's ancestors had a cap and stem, but these characters have been lost over timea common occurrence in fungi, Desjardin noted.

The cap and stem design is an elegant evolutionary solution to a fungal problem. The stem lifts the fungus' reproductive spores off the ground so that they can be dispersed more easily by wind and passing animals, while the cap protects the spores from drying out in their lofty but exposed position.

In its humid home, Spongiforma has taken a different approach to keeping its spores wet. "It's become gelatinous or rubbery," Desjardin said. "Its adaptation is to revive very quickly if it dries out, by absorbing very small amounts of moisture from the air."

S. squarepantsii now has another claim to fame: It joins the five percent of species in the vast and diverse Kingdom Fungi that have been formally named. Researchers estimate that there may be anywhere from 1.5 to 3 million fungal species.

"Most of these are very cryptic, molds and little things, most of them are not mushrooms," Desjardin said. But even mushroomswhich are sort of like the big game of the fungal worldare mostly unknown.

"We go to underexplored forests around the world, and we spend months at a time collecting all the mushrooms and focusing on various groups," Desjardin said. "And when we do that type of work, on average, anywhere from 25 percent to 30 percent of the species are new to science."

Desjardin and his colleague Don Hemmes of the University of Hawaii at Hilo will describe five new white-spored species of mushrooms from the native mountain forests of Hawaii in an upcoming issue of Mycologia.

The Hawaiian species are among the diverse set of organisms found on the islands and nowhere else in the world. Desjardin and his colleagues are racing to discover and study the islands' fungi before native forests succumb to agriculture and grazing.

"We don't know what's there, and that

Contact: Nan Broadbent
San Francisco State University

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'SpongeBob' mushroom discovered in the forests of Borneo
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