I realized that it took me about two years to get back online on my website. Oops. The hardest part was then figuring out how to do this, apparently there had been some update and I could not get access my own back page. A lot of technical support later I am finding myself writing this first entry since 2017. I will do my best to get better at this again.
In 2017, I did fieldwork in Panama for 2,5 months, funded by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Harvard University’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, and the Mycological Society of America. As part of this trip, I organized an eight-day expedition to Chucantí Nature Reserve in the Darién Province. Prior to private purchase, certain areas of the reserve were subject to logging, established as farmland, or otherwise severely threatened by agricultural and livestock activities. Once Chucantí was purchased under impulse of Guido Berguido and his Asociación Adopta el Bosque Panama (ADOPTA), the reserve has been recovering. Lately, several researchers have studied plants, invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, and fungi. Some of the species that have been discovered represent new country records, whereas others are new to science and often endemic to Chucantí.
Back to my 2017 trip. I would have been joined by a Harvard College undergraduate student, but her dropping out was probably a blessing in disguise. I found some pretty fantastic assistants in the field: Lauren Meckler and Kirk Silas, both from Pennsylvania. They responded to a call I posted on Facebook, looking for volunteers. You should know, I am terrible in saying no (my PhD advisor knows all too well, sorry Don Pfister!) and so there were also two other really great candidates who applied. For budgetary reasons I was not able to take them for the entire duration of my Panama trip, but I did invite them for the expedition to Cerro Chucantí. And so it happened that Annabel Dorrestein and Melissa Walker joined the team. Finally, my friend, fellow PhD graduate from Harvard University and bat biologist Dr. Jasmin Camacho also joined for the Chucantí adventure.
We all met in Gamboa, went with too many and too heavy backpacks to Guido’s house and drove to basically the foot of Cerro Chucantí, to then find ourselves climbing the mountainous path to the Chucantí Nature Reserve base camp. It took us longer than I had envisioned. We started walking in the early afternoon and arrived close to midnight. What a trip, and what a muddy mess of a path! There were horses, but not enough for all of us to ride. So every now and then we would switch from riding a horse back to walking and vice versa. I remember that one of my field assistants was lying across the path in the mud after a nasty fall and I did not have much control over my horse, so I could only exclaim to “please get out of the way!” They were not happy. Oh, the thrill to climb a mountain!
So, we were finally at Cerro Chucantí. Exhausted, but excited to get some work done. And that work included capturing bats and screening those bats for streblid bat flies. These are blood-sucking ectoparasites that exclusively occur on bats. I wasn’t interested in neither the bats nor the bat flies but in the fungi that I might find on those flies. What a system, bats with ectoparasitic flies that carry ectoparasitic fungi. One ought to be crazy to study this kind of stuff. Either that, or extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to receive great mentoring. We captured bats using mistnets for seven nights in a row, from sunset to 11 pm. A total of 227 bats went through our hands, of which 148 had bat flies. We collected 437 bat flies and brought them to the lab at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute where I screened them under the microscope for the presence of ectoparasitic Laboulbeniales fungi.
So this is where I was headed towards with this post. I found a number of fungal species that were new to science. Just in seven nights, we collected enough material to describe one species and three forms new to science. These are the names:
Gloeandromyces dickii, named after my collaborator Dr. Carl Dick, who has sent 1,000s of bat flies for my study;
Gloeandromyces pageanus forma alarum, a morphotype that we only find on the base of the bat fly wings, “pageanus” refers to my collaborator Dr. Rachel Page, who runs the Bat Lab in Gamboa, Panama;
Gloeandromyces pageanus forma polymorphus, referring to the fact that this species G. pageanus has multiple morphotypes (= formae);
Gloeandromyces streblae forma sigmomorphus, referring to the general s-shape of this fungus.
Here is our paper in which we present the results of our capturing and screening efforts in Cerro Chucantí (Parasite 25: 19). And here is our paper with formal descriptions of the new taxa (Fungal Systematics and Evolution 3: 19-33).