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Ecology

Shrub-steppe Fungi

By Jessica Allen

Mental images of shrub-steppe ecosystems commonly include sagebrush, bunchgrass and burrowing owls. Mushrooms usually don't make it into this picture; however there is a surprising amount of diversity to be found in the dry climate of Southeastern Washington. Recent forays on the Hanford Site have generated new information on a variety of mushrooms found in the local shrub-steppe. Most of these fungi fruit in the spring in sandy soil and remain throughout the summer in a relatively preserved and dried state due to the heat and low humidity.

Many of the mushrooms found locally are puffball-like and can often be overlooked as rocks (fig. 1). However, some specimens are more distinctive, and two of these are quite common. Montagnea arenaria and Chlamydopus meyenianus are present in desert regions throughout the world and are easily found and identified. C. meyenianus is a tan to yellow colored and composed of a ball, full or orange-brown spores on top of a ridged stalk (fig. 2). M. arenaria is tan colored and resembles normal gilled mushrooms except the dark brown "gills" extend from the edges of the cap (fig. 3). Neither are thought to be poisonous, but are too tough to be worth eating. One other notable find in recent surveys is a small earthstar (fig. 4). Many of these mushrooms blend in with the ground and surrounding vegetation, making them hard to spot, but they are definitely fun to find and take a closer look at.

Figure 1.

Figure 2.

Figure 3.

Figure 4.

Ecology

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