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Greetings from the Swabian Jura

Dear Family,

I’m writing you from Blaubeuren, a beautiful place in the Swabian Jura (“Schwäbische Alb”). At the moment, I’m visiting the 100-year conference of the German mycological society. Usually, attending a conference would be a rather ordinary thing for a PhD student, but not in times of corona. So, I think this is worth a postcard.

The conference week started with some excursions, that were a lot of fun. We went to different places in the region, mainly in broadleaf dominated forests on alkaline soil, but also to some heathlands. For me as a mycologist living close to the Black Forest, the Swabian Jura is always an exciting region to look at the local funga. I found some beautiful species that I’ve never seen before… My highlights were Hypocrea parmastoi, a colorful ascomycete that was just described 15 years ago and the polypore Cartilosoma rene-hentic, that also was just described as a new species recently. Both species are not well known, but very conspicuous, so I guess they are not simply overlooked, but truly rare, although they seem to become more common now. As I was very unsure about the polypore, I consulted an expert I met at the conference. Coincidentally, he knew one of the persons who described the polypore as a new species and he confirmed our educated guess. That’s so cool! At the weekend, there was a really nice mushroom exhibition. When dozens of experts are looking for fungi in the region for several days, there is quite a bit of species accumulating. It was more than I could remember, so I took many photos.

The second part of the conference was dedicated to scientific talks, workshops, and a paper session. I’m still a bit overwhelmed by the mass of information. Also, it seems like in mycology there is a kind of enthusiastic mood, which I think is mainly caused by the numerous new methods that are now applied. The possibility to sequence everything from single individuals to whole communities opened many new opportunities. Theoretical frameworks originated from plant and animal ecology are used for fungi as well and give new insights. And the need for innovative solutions for issues in economy asks for the exploration of the rather understudied capabilities of fungi. What impressed me the most was the discovery of a completely new fungal lineage isolated from burned soil. Previously, the lineage was only known as ITS sequence from metabarcoding studies. The global patterns of fruitbody traits were also super interesting… Did you know that fungi tend to be darker in colder climates, larger in mild climatic regions and tougher under harsh conditions? And what challenged me and my understanding of the biological species concept the most was the discovery of a lichenized fungal syngameon, which is a group of taxa with high hybridization rates and a lack of strong reproductive barriers and thus high interspecific gene flow. The journey started with the innocent attempt to construct a simple phylogenetic tree and lead to pretty large study with huge genomic and ecological consequences for the genera Pyrenodesmia. I know that this all sounds very complicated and very specific, but what I’m trying to explain is this: There are still many things to discover.

Now, the conference is almost over, people are packing their things and say good-bye. This is also my time to get ready for my way back to Freiburg. I wish you all the best and I hope to see you soon!


by Max Wieners (B9)