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1 Introduction An Exciting Time for Amateur Mycology This is an exciting time for the science of mycology and for amateur mycologists, and we hope this book encourages collectors across the Midwest to participate in the scientific effort to better understand the mushrooms of our region. Not so long ago, the DNA revolution had not yet penetrated mycology, and mushrooms were understood and identified primarily on the basis of their physical features. The astounding body of work produced by the Midwest’s most prolific, most famous mycologist, Alexander H. Smith (1904–86), represents the pinnacle of the morphology-based approach to mushroom taxonomy in North America. Smith was an amazing collector and taxonomist, and his descriptions of fungi serve as an illustrative example of the thoroughness, patience, and dedication required for good taxonomy. Here, for example, is the material cited list for Smith’s description of Lactarius allardii (see p. 230) in his monograph of the genus Lactarius, coauthored with L. R. Hesler: Material cited.—MICHIGAN: Bas 721 (MICH); Hosney 2902 (MICH); Smith, Sep 1951, 35827, 38373, 77951; Weber, 24 Aug 1973, 3903, 3926, 4117, 4155, 4197 (all MICH); NORTH CAR­ OLINA: Coker 160 (type, NCU); Hesler 23478, 30160, 35703; Olexia (TENN 28273); Petersen (TENN 26919); TENNESSEE: Hesler 4992, 17107 (MICH), 20895 (MICH), 21935, 24369, 24855, 30160, 35703 . . . Sharp (TENN 3714, 19220); Smith 9654, 10112, 10328, 10432, 10536; Warise (TENN 8151). (1979, 210) This list tells us that Smith and Hesler studied thirty -two collections of Lactarius allardii before describing it in a scientific setting and that, over a period of decades, Smith made eight of these collections himself (also, Smith’s daughter, Nancy Weber, made five collections, and Hesler made eleven). If we calculate the amount of time involved with collecting and documenting mushrooms (see chapter 2) conservatively at approximately thirty minutes per mushroom, Smith spent about four hours of his life studying fresh Lactarius allardii specimens. But Smith also preserved the collections and studied them later in his laboratory at the University of Michigan, poring over their microscopic details—a process that takes at least as much time, if not more, as working with the freshly picked mushrooms; let us conservatively put Smith’s Lactarius allardii time 2 Introduction sheet at eight hours after the microscope work. Then there was the taxonomic research (studying scientific keys and technical descriptions) and the time spent studying the collections made by others (including the original “type collection” for the species, made by W. C. Coker). All in all, ten hours of work for Smith on Lactarius allardii seems like a reasonable estimate. But here’s the clincher: Lactarius allardii is one of over 200 species described in Hesler and Smith’s Lactarius monograph, and this monograph is one of nearly 200 mycological publications made by Smith in his career. Contemporary mycological work, however, requires not only substantial field work, microscope work, and taxonomic research but also the work of molecular biologists: DNA extraction, sequencing, and phylogenetic research. The “per-mushroom” time estimate for DNA study is at least equal to the estimate for the kind of work done by Smith, effectively doubling the amount of time required, these days, for taxonomic work on mushrooms. In the Midwest there are about two dozen mycologists doing this work professionally, but there are thousands of mushroom species, a great number of which are poorly understood, undocumented, or unnamed. It should be clear from these numbers that it would take many, many generations of mycologists to arrive at something like a comprehensive “mycoflora of the Midwest” using contemporary taxonomic standards (which might not be very “contemporary” anymore by the time the project was finished). Enter the amateur mycologists. Amateurs have always been important to mycology, but never has the science needed them more than today. For example , one result of the transition between Smith-style mycology and today’s DNA-based mycology is that fewer and fewer mycologists are even trained in field work and documentation, and specimens collected in Smith’s generation are getting older, reaching a point at which DNA extraction becomes expensive and difficult, or even impossible, since normal extraction protocols can be less successful when mushrooms are roughly twenty to thirty years old or more. Thus the Midwest’s public mycological herbaria (institutions that carefully store specimens for posterity; see p. 14) are in desperate need of well-documented contemporary collections for mycologists to study. Our friend Ron Kerner is one of several amateur mycologists in the Midwest who has dedicated...


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