“Scientists believe that less than 4% percent of the world’s fungi have been documented, which adds up to only 150,000 species described out of an estimated 2.2-3.8 million worldwide,” writes Kate Mothes for Colossal.
The duo’s research has proven extremely important for many reasons, including that their work helped protect valuable areas such as Ecuador’s Reserva Los Cedros. In 2016, the Ecuadorian government said that the area, which was one of the last watersheds along the western side of the Andes not to be logged and mined, was open for business. Ultimately, the Ecuadorian supreme court stepped in and put a stop to the threat, citing fungal diversity research performed by Newman and Vandergrift.
Newman and Vandergrift, along with other scientists from the United States and Ecuador, have made six expeditions to Los Cedros and the results of the in-depth survey were recently published. “Richer than Gold: the fungal biodiversity of Reserva Los Cedros, a threatened Andean cloud forest” is written by Vandergrift, Newman, Dentinger, Batallas-Molina, Dueñas, Flores, Goyes, Jenkinson, McAlpine, Navas, Policha, Thomas, and Roy.
During surveys from 2008 to 2019, the team cataloged 1,760 collections. Among these collections, the team believes they have identified at least 727 unique fungal species within Los Cedros. These species represent four phyla, 17 classes, 40 orders, 101 families, and 229 genera. Two taxa within Los Cedros have been recommended to the IUCN Fungal Red List Initiative.
“Plants and animals are known to exhibit exceptionally high diversity and endemism in the Chocó bioregion, as the fungi do as well. Our collections contribute to understanding this important driver of biodiversity in the Neotropics, as well as illustrating the importance and utility of such data to conservation efforts,” explains the study.
The tropics, including areas like Los Cedros, are believed to be home to many unidentified fungal species. The study explains that the Andes is one of the least documented and most biologically diverse places on Earth, at least when it comes to fungi.
Getting up close and personal with fungus requires good macro photography equipment. Newman uses an Olympus OM-D E-M1X alongside the M.Zuiko ED 90mm f/3.5 Macro IS PRO lens. Newman uses a Yongnuo YN-14EX-C Macro Ring Light and a Venus Optics Laowa KX-800 Flexible Macro Twin Flash for lighting.
Newman also has microscope equipment, including a range of optics which he adapts to a Canon 6D.
Danny Newman’s fantastic fungus photos are available on Flickr, Instagram, and iNaturalist. Roo Vandergrift is on Instagram and Etsy, where Vandergrift sells mycology-themed illustrations and clothing.
Imgae credits: All images are credited to Danny Newman and used under the Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 license