Ask any mushroom hunter: It can be tricky to correctly identify a fungus.
A fungus found by U.S. Forest Service researchers in Southeast Alaska this summer, which at first was thought to be a potentially harmful invasive called spruce bud blight — turns out to be an entirely different native species after all.
But forest pathologists are not letting down their guard: Spruce bud blight is still out there, in the forests of Southcentral and Interior Alaska.
It’s a case of mistaken identity — the kind of mistake you can only clear up with a 400-power compound microscope, and the presence of mind to call the reporters who helped spread the word about spruce bud blight in the first place.
“All of the specimens of spruce bud blight that had been collected in Southeast Alaska are actually caused by a different fungus. And that fungus is Dichomera gemmicola.”
This is Robin Mulvey, with the Alaska Forest Health Protection office in Juneau. Although Mulvey and her team were looking for spruce bud blight, Dichomera gemmicola is a nice discovery in its own right. And it’s prompted a new set of questions.
“You know we haven’t found it here before, and that may mean it’s more prevalent now, or more noticeable now. Something may have changed to make it more noticeable. Or it may just be that we found it because we were looking.”
Mulvey calls Dichomera gemmicola a “benign detection,” which she is happy about. It’s been found in the white and Englemann spruce of British Columbia since the 1960s. She said it’s likely that the fungus and spruce trees coevolved in this region, giving the trees a natural resistance and keeping the two species in balance.
Spruce bud blight — not so much. This fungus blackens and deforms the emerging buds of spruce trees. Gemmamyces piceae, as it’s called, has taken out entire plantations of blue spruce in Eastern Europe. And it’s in Alaska, on the Kenai Peninsula, around Anchorage, and in forests near Fairbanks. That’s why Mulvey was looking for it in Southeast this summer, and found Dichomera instead. Spruce bud blight could still turn up somewhere in Southeast.
For a forest pathologist, the incorrect identification of Gemmamyces was no setback. It’s game on.
“We’re constantly unraveling these stories — these mysteries — and trying to figure things out. I think the publicity around spruce bud blight, because we weren’t sure if it was a native or non-native causal fungus, has created some excitement about the scientific process. And I think that’s valuable.”
Valuable and, Mulvey said, a kind of test run for her team at the office of Forest Health Protection.
“We found something new,” she said. “Where do we go from here?”
- Prosecutors are charging two men with stealing a 10,000-year-old mammoth tusk from the federal Bureau of Land Management in Anchorage. The indictment appears to be a break in a case that had gone unsolved since the tusk went missing six months ago.
- Parents looking for a way to engage their children in Juneau’s local election can take advantage of a Kids Vote event this weekend and next.
- The idea of the show happened out of conversations with friends and colleagues who were angry that stories about gender-based violence weren’t being heard, said director Allison Holtkamp.
- The salmon caught and processed locally will be sold first to co-op members and then to other residents