New fungi species unearthed in Cairngorms mountainson July 13, 2022 at 11:55 pm

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The discoveries included a fungus previously recorded in the Arctic and another in Antarctica.

Violet CoralImage source, Trevor Dines/Plantlife

Two species of fungi new to the UK and another previously unknown to science have been discovered in the Cairngorms.

Amanita groenlandica is an Arctic species, while Acrodontium Antarcticum was first recorded on the opposite side of the world in Antarctica.

The previously unknown species uncovered is from a group called Squamanita.

It includes a rare parasitic fungus nicknamed the strangler, due to its ability to take over other fungi.

Other finds included violet coral fungus in alpine grasslands on two mountains. This species is one of the UK’s rarest grassland fungi.

The Cairngorms is home to Arctic-alpine species because of its cold habitat and climate.

Andrea Britton

Image source, Plantlife/James Hutton Institute

The new discoveries were made possible after 73 volunteers helped to gather more than 200 soil samples last summer.

Conservation charity Plantlife and Aberdeen-based research organisation the James Hutton Institute led the project.

Hillwalkers collected samples of soil at different altitudes from 55 Munros – mountains more than 914.4m (3,000ft) high – in the Cairngorms National Park.

DNA was extracted from the soil and sequenced by scientists at the James Hutton Institute.

This resulted in more than 17,000 records of 2,748 fungal species.

Plantlife’s Keilidh Ewan said the project had offered fascinating insights into wildlife high on mountains.

She said: “The coming together of researchers, conservationists and the local community has uncovered some wild and wonderful species and has created evidence-based foundations against which the effects of climate and environmental change can be monitored going forward.

“This is helping us to understand the threats that this fragile habitat is facing and, ultimately, the more we understand, the better we can protect these much-loved places for the future.”

Cairngorms

Image source, Plantlife/James Hutton Institute

Andrea Britton, an ecologist at the James Hutton Institute, added: “Fungi are crucially important to the functioning of our alpine ecosystems, but because they are mostly hidden below ground, and because alpine ecosystems are remote and difficult to access, we know very little about the distribution and diversity of fungi in this iconic habitat.

“Thanks to the hard work of volunteers and scientists coming together, the data from this survey will add significantly to our knowledge of this vital group and can be used to start identifying which habitats and locations are particularly important for conservation of fungal diversity.”

The strangler

Image source, Jens H Petersen

The Cairngorms National Park includes parts of Highland, Moray, Aberdeenshire, Perthshire and Angus.

Based on the total number of species found on each Munro sampled by the project, the most species-rich summit was Beinn a’Bhuird with 359 species found, followed by Beinn Mheadhoin with 358 and Cairngorm with 352.

But there have been warnings Scotland’s arctic-Alpine fungi and plantlife are under threat from climate change.

University of Stirling researchers said species had been found to be retreating further up the Ben Lawers range north of Loch Tay.

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