Researcher Finds World's Most Diverse Home Of Slime Molds

Donald L Ferry wolfbat359 at
Mon Nov 9 09:12:54 EST 1998

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Contact: Melissa Rake
rake at
Ohio University 

Researcher Finds World's Most Diverse Home Of Slime Molds 

ATHENS, Ohio -- The secret to saving the world's vanishing rain
forests may lie in tiny slug-like organisms tucked away in the
tropical soil of a Guatemalan forest, according to an Ohio University
researcher who has discovered what could be home to the world's most
diverse collection of slime molds. 

"This area in Guatemala looks like one of the best spots on Earth for
slime molds," said James Cavender, professor of environmental and
plant biology and one of only a handful of botanists in the world who
study the ecology of slime molds. 

Cellular slime molds are primitive organisms that begin life as
single-cell spores that form amoebae. Living in the surface layers of
soil, they feed on bacteria. Before they die, they pile together and
form a multicellular body resembling a slug-like creature several
millimeters long. 

They then abandon their animal nature to form a stationary stalk
containing cellulose, which rises above the ground and leaves behind
spores that stick to the feet of scurrying animals on the forest
floor, spreading the spores for new life elsewhere. 

"They are extremely old organisms that evolved before plants and
animals, so they have found a very successful way to live in the
soil," Cavender said. "They keep the soil healthy and fertile, and
that's why they're so important." 

About 70 species of slime molds have been discovered worldwide. More
than 30 of these have been identified by Cavender, who has spent
nearly 40 years collecting the organisms in Alaska, the Amazon Basin,
Central America, East Africa, the Himalayas, Japan and Switzerland. 

The more than 1,000 samples of slime mold spores that Cavender has
preserved at Ohio University could, he believes, be revived and
introduced again into the soil of the world's vanishing rain forests. 

When trees in rain forests are cut down, slime molds die from exposure
to direct sun and rain. Without slime molds, forest rebirth is

"There's a lot of pressure to cut the rain forests, and that means a
loss of soil sustainability," Cavender said. "I hope this will draw
people's attention to the need to preserve rain forests." 

Cavender's discoveries in the lush forest of Tikal, Guatemala, take
him another step closer to preserving slime molds for future forest
restoration. In Tikal, Cavender has found seven new species of slime
molds, four of them identified in the Polysphondylium genus and three
in the Dictyostelium genus. 

"That is amazing," he said. "Something's going on there that's
allowing all these species to live together. It's so rich in

His research was published in a recent edition of the journal
Mycologia and was co-authored by Eduardo Vadell, a 1993 graduate of
Ohio University's Department of Environmental and Plant Biology. The
research was funded in part by the Ohio University Research Committee.
Cavender holds an appointment in the College of Arts and Sciences. 

Contact: James Cavender, (740) 593-4551; cavender at
Written by Melissa Rake, (740) 593-1891; rake at


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