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Researchers at FWBG | BRIT Highlight the Importance of Urban Trees with New Species Discoveries

The urban environment is much more diverse than some might suspect. We share our space on planet earth and in urban areas with all kinds of animals, plants, and insects. Even in the heart of a concrete downtown area, life exists and persists. Believe it or not, new species are being discovered in these urban areas still today – some can be seen with the naked eye and some are only micrometers in diameter.

Smaller life forms, such as fungi, myxomycetes, and lichens, are often overlooked and understudied. Researchers at FWBG | BRIT were eager to use the beautiful landscape of more than 100 acres of the neighboring BRIT and FWBG campuses as an outdoor study site to start observing urban tree populations and see what small life forms they could be harboring. What better way to learn more about these organisms than to start looking in our own backyard?

Trees, especially larger and older ones, can support diverse life when they are both living and dead. Both the crevices and surfaces of trunk tree bark on live trees and the decaying process after trees die are ways trees invite different organisms to take advantage of the ecological changes over time. From the base of a tree into the canopy brings a range of species that call a single tree “home.”

Many of us can identify a familiar tree associated with their home, or another pocket of nature in an urban environment. Perhaps you have even climbed a tree sometime in your life! These trees are not only appealing to look at but are also beneficial and necessary for our survival. Urban trees provide us with many ecosystem services such as cooling down the concrete-filled city, filtering the air and water, and conserving energy. 

You can use this tool to calculate how much money your trees at home are helping you save: http://www.treebenefits.com/calculator/ 

Whether a tree is in the deep forest or in a city, the longer it is growing in one spot, the more diverse life forms will develop and start reaping the benefits. Dating back to 2016, the Fungi, Myxomycetes, and Trees Research Team (FMTRT) has discovered a variety of organisms related to living or dead trees across the FWBG | BRIT campus and into just a fraction of Fort Worth’s nearly 300 nature parks.

 

Map of Tarrant County and the FWBG | BRIT Campus where the Fungi, Myxomycetes, and Trees Research Team has conducted research and made discoveries. Map Created in ArcGISPro by Ashley Bordelon.

Trees are not all the same – different species produce a variety of bark textures, fruit, and habits. It is these differences that produce the biodiversity we find in our urban environment. We believe these discoveries are just the tip of the iceberg of life on urban trees. Further continued research will contribute to the value, understanding, and conservation of urban trees.

Listed below are the FWBG | BRIT Staff and Research Associates involved in the Fungi, Myxomycetes, and Trees Program followed by the species discovered to date associated with trees on the FWBG | BRIT campus and other nature parks across Fort Worth and Tarrant County.

  • Harold W. Keller: Resident Research Associate, Project Coordinator, field collection and location of urban trees with fungi and myxomycetes, manuscript preparation, author. 
  • Robert J. O’Kennon: FWBG | BRIT staff/Resident Research Associate, field collection, location of field collecting sites and urban trees, photography, author.
  • Ashley Bordelon: FWBG | BRIT staff, field collector and location of tree habitats with fungi, data collection and manager, BRIT herbarium support with specimen processing and photography, author and presenter.
  • Billy G. Stone: Laboratory Associate, specimen preparation for SEM, SEM operation, light microscopy photography, manuscript preparation, co-author.
  • Edward D. Forrester: Research Assistant, light microscopy photography using multi-focal imaging and computer stacking, morphological observations and measurements, manuscript preparation, co-author.
  • Tiana F. Rehman: FWBG | BRIT staff, Herbarium assistance with specimen preparation, processing, and loans. 
  • Karen K. Nakasone: formerly with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin, collaborator and authority on Dendrothele species and related corticioid fungi.

2016

The first “small” life form discovery on the FWBG | BRIT campus in 2016, also happened to be world record in size! A myxomycete, Fuligo septica, was found growing in bark mulch of oak and maple in one of the bioswales of the BRIT landscape.

 

Fuligo septica surface showing the remnants of plasmodium. A seven-spotted ladybird beetle is observed moving across the surface. Photo by Robert J. O’Kennon.

A parchment fungus, Xylobolus frustulatus, is a wood-rotting fungus that was found on a decaying log at the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge.

 

Close up of the surface of the parchment fungus, showing the mature frustules. Photo by Robert J. O’Kennon.

2017

Three decaying logs with the parchment fungus were brought back to the lab to slowly inspect the life stages. Daily observation with a hand lens by Bob O’Kennon led to the discovery of tiny beetles seen eating the frustules of the fungus. This beetle is new to science! Named for its founder, Cis okennoni, these beetles spend their entire lives within this microenvironment of the parchment fungus on a dead log.

 

Lateral view of male Cis okennoni beetle. Note the two “protruding horns” used by males in courtship fights for females. Photo by Michael L. Ferro.

Licea iridescens, a corticolous myxomycete found through moist chamber culture of trunk bark of an American elm tree in Oliver Nature Park. This is a new species to science!

 

Bark of American elm tree in moist chamber culture. Photo by Robert J. O’Kennon.

 

Two sporangia of Licea iridescens. They are tiny with a height of up to a mere 100 μm. Photo by Edward D. Forrester.

Tree Trunk Bark Crystals

These crystals were found on multiple live American elm trees and located at different sites. Their glittering, shiny appearance abundantly covered the bark surface. This discovery is a first-time observation, and ongoing research will answer questions related to the composition and origin.

 

Closeup image of mysterious crystals found on the surface of tree trunk bark. Photo by Edward D. Forrester.

2018

Stinkhorn mushroom, Lysurus mokusin, found growing on mulch around a Live Oak tree on the FWBG | BRIT campus. 

 

Stinkhorn in mulch with fully mature fruiting bodies. Photo by Robert J. O’Kennon.

2019

As the team observed the bark of American elm trees across the campus and Fort Worth nature parks and neighborhoods, a fungus resembling splattered white paint appeared time and time again on a number of tree species.

 

Close up of tree trunk bark showing the white crust fungus, Dendrothele jacobi, at Rockwood neighborhood. Photo by Robert J. O’Kennon.

Dendrothele, a white crust fungus, can grow on both living and dead trees and has species worldwide. A few Google searches will be able to provide you with that information, but not much else. The team realized this group is very understudied. We had no clue if this fungus was a specialist or generalist, rare or abundant, or how to identify it.

Luckily, we had the privilege to connect virtually with the world authority on Dendrothele, Dr. Karen Nakasone from the USDA Forest Service in Madison, Wisconsin. Dr. Nakasone identified over 100 collections of bark samples of Dendrothele and Lyomyces from several different tree species collected across Fort Worth in 2019 and through 2020.

  • Dendrothele jacobi, white crust fungus found on living bark of American Elm (Ulmus americana), Cedar Elm (Ulmus crassifolia), Pecan (Carya illinoinensis), Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa), Live Oak (Quercus fusiformis), Post Oak (Quercus stellata), Gum Bumelia (Sideroxylon lanuginosum)and Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) on FWBG | BRIT campus, Lake Como Park, Cross Timbers Park, Foster Park, Overton Park, and many urban neighborhoods. The type locality for this species is in South Arlington! This was not new to the county, but lack of collection and observation did not mean it was rare. This species is a generalist and very common in the DFW area across many woody species.
  • Dendrothele candidawhite crust fungus found on living bark of Mockernut Hickory (Carya tomentosa) found in Lennox Woods Preserve near the Red River in Red River County. New record for Red River County.
  • Dendrothele commixtawhite crust fungus found on American Elm (Ulmus americana) in an urban neighborhood. New record for the state of Texas.
  • Dendrothele nivosawhite crust fungus found on living bark of Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) on FWBG | BRIT campus and in Tandy Hills Park, Lake Como Park, Pecan Valley Park, and in an urban neighborhood. This species is fairly common.
  • Dendrothele gilbertsoniiwhite crust fungus found on living bark of American Elm (Ulmus americana) in Cross Timbers Park. New record for the state of Texas.
  • Lyomyces juniperiwhite crust fungus found on the living bark of Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) in Pecan Valley Park and of American Ash (Fraxinus americana) on the FWBG | BRIT campus. New record for the state of Texas.

Listen to this five minute presentation given at the Texas Plant Conservation Conference 2020 to learn more.

2020

Mycena ulmi, a corticolous fungus found through moist chamber cultures of a live American elm (Ulmus americana) tree trunk bark on the FWBG campus. This species is new to science!

 

Fleshy mushrooms of Mycena ulmi on tree bark. Photo by Brian Perry.

2021

Two new species of Licea have yet to be described… stay tuned! Below is a photograph of one of the myxomycete species using the new SEM in the George C. and Sue Sumner Molecular and Structural Laboratory at FWBG | BRIT.

 

SEM image of spiny spores of new Licea species. Photo by Billy G. Stone.

Research Team