The theme of "Honoring Succession" is the banner we wave over this year's Radical Mycology Convergence. A term used in ecological studies to describe the changes in a land base's community composition over time, succession embodies the fungal lesson of accepting the value of great change, even in the face of great loss.
Whether succession occurs through the loss of species due to dwindling resources, or by the appearance of a new community member with beneficial traits, small and large changes in habitats are often pioneered or supported by fungi. In many instances these changes are seen by human observers as negative (as in the case of parasitic fungi), even though there may be long-term benefits – such as the clearing out of weakened members of the ecosystem.
An elaboration on the notion that the constant force of change is both needed and inevitable for health and vitality to be ensured, recognizing succession's effects and its grand stewards is an essential step toward understanding the history of a place or community, as well as the foundation for predicting its future course.
As the great nutrient movers, symbiotic partners, and soil builders of the world, fungi are at the beginning and end of each successional turn of any habitat. They are the eternal leaders of each environment's spiral through time – hidden teachers on the importance of resilience in the face of loss, collapse, and the unknown.
Subtly yet profoundly, fungi teach us many things and accomplish great deeds as they shape the world around us. This RMC, we not only seek to highlight this role that fungi play in building new worlds out of the old, but to also honor the legacy of mycology's movement from traditional practices and into its modern era. We ask that all who take part in this year’s Convergence consider this theme's container and the ways by which they honor succession in their life – whether in a human, fungal, or ecological context – as we come together this October.
For this year's Featured Fungi we have chosen the powerful and (in)famous Armillaria genus to lift up throughout the RMC and celebrate for its many gifts – especially as they relate to succession. This small genus of fungi are key players in temperate forest composition changes, making them iconic species for reflecting this year’s theme in both their ecological and cultural effects.
Edible, delicious, and highly medicinal, Armillaria species are commonly referred to as Honey Mushrooms due to their light-to-medium brown color and ability to spill forth in great abundance from logs and stumps, much like an overflowing honey pot. Powerful decomposers, Armillaria species also have the ability to kill off trees by girdling trunks with thick, black, rope-like strands of mycelium (known as rhizomorphs) – a trait that has framed them as problematic in the eyes of orchardists and timber companies for centuries.
And yet, these fungi are critical for species succession in forests, where they act like stewards with a seeming ability to selectively thin unhealthy trees, while leaving neighboring trees unharmed. The power of renewal and rebirth that is found throughout the Fungal Queendom is well-represented by this power in Armillaria – and is a notion that will be woven throughout the many hyphal branches of the RMC.
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