This month's fungus is Filoboletus manipularis, a poroid mushroom that I saw on my recent trip to Malaysia. For someone who has spent most of his time in the north temperate and boreal zones, the tropics are filled with fascinating things. It's much warmer and more humid. Plus there isn't a nasty winter to kill off most organisms.
I saw this species and many other fungi on my trip to Malaysia for the Malaysian Mushroom Conference and Foray in November 2008. It was a fantastic experience, except for the 35 hour flight *each way*. Fortunately Dan Lindner (my former student) came with me, and the flights were less boring than they could have been. Once we got there, we were treated very grandly by our Malaysian hosts and their many students. We got to visit the jungle at the Gomback Field Station, where we saw our first glimpse of wild monkeys. I think one of them was throwing seed pods at us. We had delicious food everywhere we went, a very interesting mixture of Malay, Thai, Chinese, and Indian cuisine. We also saw many sights of the city, including the Petronas towers (452 m [1482 feet] tall with a bridge between the towers at 41-42 stories). and the Kuala Lumpur Tower, at 421 meters (1381 ft.). We went to Batu Cave, a Hindu temple in a cave that had been naturally carved in the limestone mountain, requiring climbing 272 steps to get to the top (I made it!). More importantly I did not get sick at all, despite the immunosuppressive drugs from my heart transplant. A great trip!
There are many interesting fungi in the tropics that, at first glance, look like fungi from the temperate zones. For example, from a distance, this Filoboletus looks like some sort of a Mycena species, such as Mycena leaiana and Mycena haematopus. However, when you take a closer look, there are some significant differences. Most importantly, there are pores to bear the basidiospores where there should be gills! Although I had seen pictures of Filoboletus before, I did not expect they would be so abundant and that they would be so tough and rubbery in texture. But there they were, along with a host of other weird fungi. Filoboletus manipularis is a common mushroom of the tropics in southeast Asia, Australia, and other parts of the old world and new world tropics. There is some evidence that F. manipularis is really a species complex, consisting of two or more "cryptic" species that are "hidden" within this one species.
Although I am calling this fungus Filoboletus manipularis, it has also been placed in a variety of other genera, including Poromycena, Favolus, Porolaschia, Laschia, and Mycena.In fact, according to Desjardin et al. (2008), it probably doesn't belong in *any* of these genera. According to PCR and DNA sequencing studies, all of these genera fall into what is called the "mycenoid clade," a fancy term for species that are in the genus Mycena or closely related. Further studies indicate that Filoboletus manipularis does not belong with other species of Filoboletus (such as F. gracilis of the neotropics. Yet it also does not belong with Poromycena, Mycena or any other described genus. According to Desjardin et al. this species needs a new genus. So for now I will leave it in the genus Filoboletus, which is what the Malaysians called it while we were there.
In any case, this fungus cause a wood decay, probably a white rot. Some of the strains of this species are also bioluminescent, producing their own enzymes that allow them to glow in the dark. Apparently not all strains of this species glow, but bioluminescence is rather common among the mycenoid clade (Desjardin et al. 2008), especially in the tropics. There are two other major groups of bioluminescent fungi-- Omphalotus, the jack-o-lantern mushroom, and Armillaria, the honey mushrooms. The enzymes and chemical involved are different, so bioluminescence probably evolved independently at least three times in the Basidiomycota. Interestingly, the function of bioluminescence in fungi is unknown, although some suggest the compounds may be insect attractants or insect deterrents.
Terima kasih (Thank you!) to Prof. Dr. Vikineswary Sabaratnam, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Md. Yusoff Musa, and Prof. Dr. Noorlidah Abdullah for organizing the mushroom conference and for hosting our visit. Terima kasih also to Dr. Salmiah Ujang, my former colleague at the Forest Products Lab in Madison, who is now at the Malaysian Forestry Research Center. Terima kasih to the many graduate students for their great hospitality. They took us into the forest and all around town to see the interesting sights and eat interesting foods.
I hope you enjoyed learning about Filoboletus manipularis and its relatives. I hope you get to visit the tropics and see this fungus someday.
Desjardin,DE, Oliveira, AG, Stevani,CV. 2008. Fungi bioluminescence revisited. Phytochem, Phytobiol. Sci. 7:170-182
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