Thursday, 20 May 2010

New stuffs

(I'm currently reading the biography of Elizabeth David, and she used the word 'stuffs' to mean 'unspecified items'. I rather like it.)

When I find a new species, I like to try to identify it and then to find out where it fits into our ecosystem. Identification can sometimes take a long time: several hours or even days. On occasion, a specimen has to be sent to an expert for confirmation, especially if it's a first for the country. The internet is a wonderful resource for identifications, both for images and identification keys, but also for access to expertise: I can take a photograph and have it in front of the relevant domain expert within minutes. Sadly, many specimens cannot be identified from images, but they can be used to narrow the search quite a bit: there are plenty of groups that require specialist literature and one or two microscopes and/or some chemicals. I should mention in passing that Google has recently added a new feature to its image search: you can now search for an image by colour!

The following specimen is a good example of some of the processes used to make a determination.

I found this little (12mm) fungus growing in an area where Spuce forestry was clear-felled about 3 years ago.

I know it's an Ascomycete from the shape, but none of my fungus references has an image which is remotely similar, so I resorted to Google and did an image search for 'Brown Ascomycete'. Nothing jumped out at me, so I did another Google search, this time specifying that the image should be 'brown'. This led me to a Chilean specimen of Plectania chilensis. My books don't contain any references to any Plectania species, so I searched the UK fungal database for Plectania species and found records for Plectania melastoma. So, back to Google to look for images of Plectania melastoma and a couple of those looked quite reasonable. I then did a text search for Plectania melastoma and found that it 'grows on buried coniferous debris', and is found 'late spring to early summer'. Things are looking good. I have sent images off to relevant experts and I'm waiting for feedback from someone who knows it. In the meantime I have requested the technical specification of the fungus, so that I can get a sample under the microscope for microscopic analysis and confirmation. This will be a first Irish record if it turns out to be right, and I'll send a specimen off to Kew for curation.


Gill said...

Good work - and a nice little fungus.

NicoleB said...

Cool - hope it worked out :)
Sound pretty much like my google searches for Shield bugs (or any insects for that matter) from Korea.
What painstaking little steps,... :-)