Collecting slime moulds

In 2010 I started collecting myxomycetes in a tall wet eucalypt forest at Black Sugarloaf Birralee, central north Tasmania. I have several regular walking tracks which take me through different forest types including Melaleuca ericifolia (paperbark) swamp forest; ferny gullies dominated by Dicksonia antarctica (treeferns); wet eucalypt forest with several different Eucalyptus species, Acacia melanoxylon (blackwood), Banksia marginata (banksia), lots of ground ferns, copious quantities of fallen logs in various stages of decay, and other ‘coarse woody debris’, i.e. fallen branches, twigs and leaf litter. In short, fantastic slime mould habitat.

In the years since starting my research I have amassed over 1500 collections representing approximately 120 different species. This seems extraordinary given that all specimens have been collected within two kilometers of our house, and only 42 species had hitherto been officially recorded for Tasmania.

There are several conspicuous and easily recognisable myxomycetes including Lycogala epidendrum, Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa and Fuligo septica (also known as dog’s vomit slime, demon droppings, caca de luna (i.e. moon shit), or if you live in Tasmania, dog poo), but most species require examination of their spores, capillitium, columella, peridium and other microscopic features to confirm their identity (see glossary). With a stereo and a compound microscope, both  with cameras attached, I take photos of and describe these features. All information is collated in colour plates which are compared with published texts. With the help of several reference books, scientific papers, and the microscopic examination of numerous collections, I have slowly made progress with their identification. Links to PDFs of colour plates of the species are arranged taxonomically under the heading Myxomycete Orders: Liceales, Echinosteliales, Trichiales, Physarales and Stemonitales. (Links to PDFs of the colour plates are arranged in alphabetical order on the disjunctnaturalist website.)

As well as attempting to identify all collections, I am aware that, because I have daily access to my study site, I am uniquely placed to observe aspects of myxomycetes ecology.  For instance, in October 2017 eight different species appeared over a week on a small section of a fallen Bedfordia salicina log. Earlier in 2017 I observed numerous species on the litter that accumulated in the crown of treeferns (Dicksonia antarctica); several different Lamproderma species on bryophyte-covered logs and stumps; and the ‘very rare’ Elaeomyxa reticulospora that is a common species at Black Sugarloaf. These observations have been recorded in various posts.

References used for identification include Martin and Alexopoulos (1969); Poulain et al. (2011); Neubert et al. (1993-2000); Stephenson & Stempen (1994); Stephenson (2003); Nannenga-Bremekamp (1991); and various scientific papers and websites. However, many Australian myxomycetes ‘don’t quite fit published descriptions‘ (S.L. Stephenson pers. com.) and species in some genera (e.g. Cribraria) are notoriously difficult to identify.

Duplicates of most collections have been lodged at the National Herbarium of Victoria (MEL). These may be requested for study by researchers associated with registered institutions.

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