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Mystery of Meghalaya’s glowing mushrooms

A mushroom documentation project in the forests of Northeast India has revealed not only 600 varieties of fungi, but also led to a new discovery: a bioluminescent — or light emitting — variety of mushroom. The new species — named Roridomyces phyllostachydis — was first sighted on a wet August night near a stream in Meghalaya’s Mawlynnong in East Khasi Hills district and later at Krang Shuri in West Jaintia Hills district. It is now one among the 97 known species of bioluminescent fungi in the world.

How did the scientists chance upon the luminous mushrooms?

In August 2018, Assam-based conservation NGO Balipara Foundation collaborated with scientists from the Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences on a project to assess the fungal biodiversity of four states in Northeast India: Meghalaya, Assam, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. This particular mushroom was spotted on the Meghalaya leg of their expedition.

“Whenever we go mushroom documenting, we always ask locals if there are bioluminescent mushrooms around,” said team photographer Stephen Axford, who has documented fungi over the world for 15 years. “In Meghalaya, we did the same, and to our surprise, they said ‘Of course, we do’.”

The villagers then guided the team down a dark forest path, towards a stream. “We could see tiny pinpricks of light along the way,” said Axford, who set up a small outdoor studio to photograph the mushrooms in the dark, “They were striking.”

Later, on closer examination, and post sequencing the ITS gene of the mushroom, the researchers found that the mushroom belonged to the Roridomyces genus, and was altogether a new species, named after the host bamboo tree, Phyllostachys, from where it was first collected.

The research results were published in the botany journal Phytotaxa under the title “Roridomyces phyllostachydis (Agaricales, Mycenaceae), a new bioluminescent fungus from Northeast India”.


Plant species named after Arunachal journalist Taro Chatung

Researchers at the Rajiv Gandhi University (RGU) in Arunachal Pradesh have named a new plant species found only in a small area in the Upper Siang district, after Taro Chatung, a popular and pioneering journalist from the north-eastern state who died in last October.

The new species, which belongs to the Gesneriaceae family — flowering plants that consist of about 152 genera and over 3,500 species — has been named Lysionotus chatungii after Chatung.

Details of the species were published this week in the taxonomic journal Pleione, brought out by the East Himalayan Society for Spermatophyte Taxonomy.

“It was a new year gift for our dear friend. Chatung was the most popular journalist and one of the pioneers of electronic media in Arunachal Pradesh. That’s why we decided to name it after him as a tribute to his memory,” said Dr Hui Tag, head of RGU’s botany department.

Chatung, who was suffering from cancer, died on October 26, 2019 at the Tomo Riba Institute of Health and Medical Sciences in Itanagar. He left his state civil service job in 1988 to pursue journalism.

Chatung’s show “News and Views”, which aired on Doordarshan, was one of the most-viewed television news programmes in the state. He was also a founding member and former president of the Arunachal Press Club and the Arunachal Pradesh Union of Working Journalists.

Momang Taram, a research scholar at the university’s botany department, found the new species, a small climbing herbaceous plant, at Geku in Upper Siang district of the state last April.

The plant found growing on rocks and tree trunks has been stated to be endemic to the district. Less 100 plants of the kind were found spread over a three-square-km area.

As per IUCN’s (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List Category and Criteria, due to is the extent of occurrence (found only in an area less than 10 sq km), Lysionotus Chatungii should be listed as critically endangered.

“The plant is available only in this particular area in Arunachal Pradesh. We wanted to dedicate the plant to the journalist community in the north-east by naming it after Chatung,” Taram said. (HT)