EcoGozo discovers completely new species of fungi from Gozo
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The EcoGozo Regional Development Directorate within the Ministry of Gozo established the Gozo Biodiversity Explorer project in 2016.
Later on there was an investigation of fungi and microfungi (microscopic or miniscule fungi) in Gozo, mostly concerning mycological pathogens and myxomycetes in order to improve in different ways the social livelihood and functions for Gozitans.
Stephen Mifsud, a resident mycologist and laboratory scientist with EcoGozo, discovered a new species of fungi and microfungi during his work at EcoGozo.
Below, Stephen explains his work on the exciting new discoveries and their possible affect on the surrounding areas.
“First, the investigation of fungi will primarily help local farmers to identify pathogens affecting their plant produce and effectively combat them.
Second, the identification of toxic fungal species or that emit allergic spores in urban or semi-rural areas could be used to promote public health by distinguishing any health hazards by specific fungal or micro-fungal organisms.
Third priority is to signal presences of fungal infections growing on ruderal weeds which can be transmitted and infect neighbouring crop fields.
Finally and above all, this project aims to increase public awareness and amass research and knowledge on the fungal biodiversity of the Maltese Islands and alert any significant hazard or allergen to the public.
During the first half of 2017, three fungal species of significant importance and new for the Maltese islands have been discovered. The first is a type of powdery mildew which was growing on common fennel (Foeniculum vulgare, Busbiez) collected from a few plants growing along the roadsides at Dahlet Qorrot and San Blas, in Nadur.
This mildew appears as a white powdery mass over the upper stems and most of the leaves and eventually it kills or restricts the hosts’ growth. Primary symptoms are wilting and then yellowing of upper leaves.
The pathogen is called Erysiphe heraclei and has characteristic oblong conidiospores with rounded ends measuring about 40 microns in length. It has never been reported from the Maltese islands but not rare in other countries and well known in Australia an China to cause powdery mildew on carrots, dill, parsnip and parsley – all of these are species belonging to the same family as the fennel: Apiaceae (the carrot family).
Sulphur and other fungicides effectively control this powdery mildew; however treatment needs to be applied as early as possible for successful control and mitigation of the pathogen to be achieved. Only a few infected fennel plants were spotted and they were removed and burnt to safeguard the nearby fields.
The second species is called Cosmospora flavoviridis, an attractive crimson-red tiny fungus less than half a millimetre in size, but since it grows in clusters it give a superficial impression of a red coral growing on bark.
The fungus has a closed goblet shape in which microscopic tubular compartments called asci are found closely packed. Each ascus holds eight oval spores about 10-microns long and with a central division where each can give rise to a new individual.
The identification of this species is far more difficult than direct microscopical observation because it has to be cultured on special growth media to form a different fungal state (called anamorph) by which a full identification is reached upon examination of its growth characters on the media itself.
The anamorph is a type of Fusarium which leaves a yellowish pigment in the media, from which the species name ‘flavoviridis’ (yellowish-green) originates. When identification to species level was reached, it was affirmed that it does not emit allergic spores or pose any hazard or inconvenience to public health. Samples have been gathered from Wied il-Ghasri and Iz-Zebbug (Gozo) from bark of almond trees.
The third species is a type of morel found in Xewkija and it is being included in this article because it is quite rare worldwide and possibly a first recorded for Western Europe.
The name of this fungus is Morchella galilaea and was first described in 2012 in Israel, but it has also been found in Turkey, China, New Zealand and India.
The identification of the morel in Gozo was carried out in collaboration with a French mycologist of international fame – Professor Frank Richard. Unlike ordinary toadstool mushrooms, morels have an elongated egg shape structure with large cavities or ridges.
Most morels grow in spring but this species is unique because it grows in autumn. The fungus belongs to the large and diverse group called Ascomycetes (cup fungi) and it is characterised by a fruiting body about 5cm tall, with many wide five to six sided cavities having a greyish-beige colour, and white oval spores almost 20 micrometres long. Like other morels, this species is an organic decomposer feeding on dead roods and harmless to the public.”
Stephen said that his work continues and he will continue to reveal more interesting findings of fungi from Gozo in the coming autumn.
Photographs by Stephen Mifsud – EcoGozo