Gran Sabana Stalk Fungus Colony

With the help of my friend, Ron Skylstadwe've come up with a name for the installation: the Gran Sabana Stalk Fungus Colony.  

 

Ron Skylstad, Naturalist and Storyteller {big thank you to Ron for the imaginative description!  His creative writing and fascination with biodiversity breathes life into my work and I love collaborating with him in this way!}  


Imagine for a moment that this is a real fungus just recently discovered and you're reading about it for the first time...  

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"In the Guiana Highlands of Venezuela are massive table-top mesas that protrude from the vast sea of tropical savannah that surrounds them.  Known as tepuis, these isolated geologic structures serve as veritable islands, hosting a unique array of endemic plant and animal species.  Tepuis served as the source of inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, in which a trio of Victorian explorers scaled their sheer slopes and discovered an ecosystem rife with prehistoric holdovers and species long forgotten to science.  Although we now know these formations don’t play host to 21st century dinosaur populations, new species have nonetheless been discovered inhabiting them.  Perhaps one of the most intriguing is a species of fungus that is found nowhere else on earth.  

 

Fungus Colony installation | waxed cloth | Shannon Newby

 

  The fungus Leucocoprinus sabanensis, also known as the Gran Sabana Stalk Fungus Colony, exists in a mutualistic relationship with a species of leaf cutter ant from the genus Acromyrmex.  The ants cultivate the fungus on the exposed cliff walls of the monolithic tepuis, making it largely inaccessible to predators such as the coatimundi and fungivorous insects.  The sandstone substrate of the cliffs, however, provides no nutrition for the fungus colony.  The ants tend it by collecting organic material (plant, wood, arthropod and flower detritus) and storing it within the fungus’ chambers, where it is further decomposed and converted into nutrients.  In exchange, the fungus provides nourishment to the ants who harvest portions of it for their own nutrition as well as for the rearing of larvae.   Pieces are regularly removed and “planted” elsewhere on the cliffsides, resulting in numerous fungus groups being tended by a single ant colony at any given time. 


 

  The organization of the fungus by the ants can be complex: “doorways” are often opened up between different chambers, allowing ease of movement for the ants throughout the fungal structure.  Some chambers are used solely as feeding pods where organic material is stored, whereas others are used for the rearing of larvae as well as a single chamber for the hosting of the queen."

 

 

- Ron Skylstad, Naturalist and Storyteller