Spotted owls and mycorrhizal fungi

dwheeler at dwheeler at
Tue Mar 4 02:21:05 EST 1997

In the 1890's Gifford Pinchot determined four things necessary to grow
plants and trees: air, water, soil and light. At the same time, Pinchot
and James Audubon were disagreeing.

Audubon postulated that other organisms within forest were also important
to forest health.

It now appears that both were right.

The current question of spotted owls vs. forests is not one of science or
fact. It is a question of hype.

In 1995, a fossil of Glomites was found in Devonian rock. Without getting
into a lot of geology, the Devonian was important in that terrestrial
plant fossils begin to appear. And with these plants, Glomites appeared.

What is Glomites? An early mycorrhizal fungi. Mycorrhizal fungi are
essential to the health and long-term survival of most (85-99%, depending
on source) terrestrial plant life. Dr. James Trappe identified that 100%
of all terrestrial rooted Western hemlock were associated with mycorrhizal
fungi. As Trappe dryly noted, 100% doesn't happen often in nature.

There are an estimated 1,000,000 different fungi on the world today. Most
have not been described.

Douglas fir forms mycorrhizae with several thousand fungi. Most of these
have never been cultivated today. Many have never even been seen. How do I
know this? In ten years of truffle collecting, I have uncovered 25
collections of species new to science.

So what does the Northern Spotted owl have to do with this? In his book,
The Redefined Forest, Chris Maser notes the importance of mycorrhizal
fungi and the animals that disperse these fungi.

Dr. Trappe has gone a step further. He says it is easy to find trees
without mycorrhizal fungi in a forest or plantation: they are dead.

So the facts are: most mycorrhizal fungi have not been cultivated at this
time, and trees require mycorrhizal fungi for health.

All truffles are mycorrhizal fungi. There are several hundred species of
these fungi in the Pacific Northwest. Dr. Alexander H. Smith documented
350 different species of Rhizopogons alone, most of which were collected
from about 20 square miles in Idaho.

Truffles form spores inside a shell called a peridium. The spores cannot
escape from this shell, like mushroom spores are spread. Thus, the truffle
develops powerful aromas, similar to pheromones (chemical sex
attractants), which entice animals to dig the truffle up and eat them.

Two truffle eaters are well-known: Northern Flying squirrels and
California Red-backed voles.

While these species disperse truffle spores throught their fecal pellets,
they have small ranges.

Fortunately, the Northern Spotted owl also dines on California Red-backed
voles and Northern Flying squirrels. And the Spotted owl ranges up to 40
miles a day in pursuit of food.

Truffle spores evidently pass through an owl as easily as through a vole.

The Northern Spotted owl has stubby wings, well-suited for flying through
dense-canopy, old growth forests with multiple vegetation layers.

Finally, there appears to be a succession of mycorrhizal fungi as trees
mature. A tree farm of Douglas fir near Oregon City had abundant Martellia
brunnescens, Hymenogaster parksii, Barssia oregonensis, Rhizopogon
vinicolor, Rhizopogon villosulus, Rhizopogon parksii, and Endogone
lactiflua while the trees were still 5-8 feet tall -- still Christmas-tree

These trees are now 20 years old. The above mycorrhizal truffles are so
rare in the stand, it is notable when they are found.

So the next time a forester blames a Spotted owl for lack of jobs, you
might ask them how many species of mycorrhizal fungi they cultivate.
Because if you don't grow mycorrhizal fungi, you don't grow anything.

Daniel B. Wheeler

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