Winning a spot for an underwater mushroom on the Top 10 New Species list has made a big splash in the mycological world.
But discoverer Robert Coffan brushes off the acclaim.
"I feel very humbled, but I think, for some reason, nature just nudged me to open the window and find it," he says.
The species, called Rogue mushroom and discovered in 2005 on the Upper Rogue, made the Top 10 list after publication in the professional journal Mycologia in January 2010. The Top 10 list is put out annually by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University.
"The story was the big deal" and made the species official and accepted by the profession, says Coffan, a hydrologist and amateur mushroom hunter.
"It's a huge distinction to discover a new species ... and a gilled mushroom has never been known to grow underwater."
Coffan credits Southern Oregon University Professor Darlene Southworth and her lab technician Jonathan Frank with the hard work of discovery, analyzing at the molecular and DNA level and penning the article that pulled the covers off a fungi living in a well-traveled area but missed by all previous mycologists.
"There are certain places here that people don't look that thoroughly — and underground and underwater are two of them," says Southworth, who has discovered three species of truffles that live underground as well as the mountain mahogany, a high-elevation desert shrub, in this region.
Finding a new species is kind of like getting a hole-in-one; you can't set out to do it but you're glad when it happens.
"You don't try to discover new ones," Southworth says. "There are organisms that live out their lives here and we don't even know they exist. We found the new truffles because we were trying to figure out what fungi are associated with oak roots.
"I tried to identify them. I looked and looked and couldn't identify it. I thought, gee, am I stupid or something? Then OSU (Oregon State University) said this is a new species."
The Rogue mushroom made the Top 10 list because "it's a really novel habitat for a mushroom," says Southworth. "It's similar to the mushrooms you see at Safeway and it's part of the decomposition process for wood in streams."
It appears on the Top 10 list at dailytidings.com/roguemushroom.
Other Top 10 new species for 2011 include a bioluminescent mushroom, pollinating cricket, jumping cockroach, pancake batfish and blood-sucking "t. Rex leech" found in the nasal passage of a Peruvian child.
When Coffan found the underwater mushroom, Psathyrella aquatica, he brought it to Southworth and "we worked it out," she says. Coffan, an adjunct SOU teacher, says the mushroom has been cultured in the lab, but it hasn't been determined yet whether it has any medicinal or food value.
To find new species, Southworth notes, "You have to do a lot of looking. Alexander Smith, a mycologist in the 1940s, studied this genus and was walking on the Rogue ... he just didn't see it. He didn't look in the water. The biological world really isn't all that well-known when you get down to it."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.