There is a somber motto that hangs over the chronically underfunded world of 21st century taxonomic research: “find it before it goes extinct.” Kingdom Fungi currently contains some 130,000 known, named species, but between two and five million more are estimated to exist. To be among the 150-200 species which disappear each day on this planet is a privilege which most fungi do not enjoy, not because they aren’t disappearing, but because their existence was never known in the first place. Like so many trees falling with no one around to hear them, they are silently, imperceptibly struck from the long list of living things for which we have no human name. This is truer nowhere more so than tropical rainforests.
In one of the last unlogged watersheds on the western slopes of the Andes lies Ecuador’s Reserva Los Cedros, a 17,000-acre paradise of primary cloud forest. Home to over 300 species of trees, 400 species of orchids, 300 species of birds, and over 900 species of moths, Los Cedros is a pristine example of the incredible biodiversity for which Ecuador is well known. However, the extent of the reserve’s fungal diversity — like much of the Andean-Amazonian region — is still largely unknown. Since 2008, an international team of mycologists have been documenting the fungi of Los Cedros, both to add them to the catalog of life on Earth, and to help protect them from the ever-present threats of mining and deforestation.
Danny Newman is an independent parataxonomist and photographer primarily interested in the systematics of Andean-Amazonian fungi. In a mycological career spanning two decades, 14 countries and four continents, Newman has been a teacher, student, intern, research assistant, grant recipient, author, identifier and librarian. He currently resides in Southern Appalachia in the rainy shadow of the Great Smoky Mountains.