Fungi at the EcoTarium

Ecotarium logoThree years of planning, prototyping, and production have come to fruition at the Worcester EcoTarium. A new series of exhibits on fungi and the tree of life opened recently and was celebrated with a foray on the wooded grounds of the EcoTarium. The exhibits (described in an article in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette) illustrate the relationships between mushrooms and mycelia, the impacts of fungi on human affairs, and, of particular interest to me, the diversity of fungi in a phylogenetic context. The exhibits explain how to read a phylogenetic tree through fun, interactive displays, and they are enlivened with artwork created by Amy Yeager , who graduated from Clark in 2017 with a self-designed major in Biological Illustration.

T&G article

Me, with Alice Promisel (left), Betsy Loring (right), and Bondarzewia berkeleyi (center, very heavy), from Worcester T&G article by Susan Spencer.

The exhibit was produced with support from the National Science Foundation (award number IOS-1456777), which supports a collaborative project on functional and evolutionary genomics in wood decay fungi. Betsy Loring, Director of Exhibits at the EcoTarium, is a Co-PI on the grant, which also includes partners at the University of Minnesota (Bob Blanchette and Jonathan Schilling), University of California, Berkeley (Igor Grigoriev), University of Toronto (Emma Master), and University of Wisconsin/USDA Forest Products Lab, Madison (Dan Cullen). A pair of papers (Wu et al. 2018 and Krah et al. 2018) reporting results of the research were the subjects of earlier posts.

1 ToL intro.jpg

2 FToL & Amy

Amy Yeager and the Fungal Tree of Life.

3 Amy's fungi

Details of some of Amy’s illustrations from the Fungal Tree of Life.*

4 Tree challenge example

How to read a tree. In addition to Fungi, we included an animal phylogeny.

5 tree problems 2

This interactive tree-thinking problem develops the concept of “relatedness”.

6 tree problems 1

This one shows resolution of a polytomy.

7 Fairy ring

Fairy rings demystified. Other displays in this section explain the relationship between mycelia and mushrooms and the role of fungi in decay and the carbon cycle.*

Fungus Foray at the Ecotarium

The EcoTarium has a nice wooded path for a foray.*

9 Foray Bella

Bella Reichel is an undergrad in our lab this year. Two other Clarkies lurk in the background.*

10 Basket

Some of the mushrooms that we found.*

The EcoTarium hosts thousands of visitors every year, including many children with their families and teachers. It is exciting and gratifying to think that long after the NSF grant has ended, these exhibits will continue to educate, entertain, and inspire the next generation of informed, ecologically aware citizens.

11 acknos.jpgMany thanks, not only to the NSF, but to Betsy and her talented and dedicated staff (Alice Promisel, Shana Hawrylchak, and others), Amy, and everyone from my lab (Alicia, Sean, Erika, Bella, and Alfredo) who came and helped out on the foray.

*Clark University photos.