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Strangers Amongst Us

The race to record Sea to Sky rare flora and fauna before they are gone forever



The warning was clear — participation in an outing with the Vancouver Mycological Society entailed one mandatory requirement, namely a great deal of patience. Group leader Daryl Thompson attested to that fact. "We don't move fast," he said with a smile to the gathered group of roughly 15 people. "We stop and move from rocks and stumps and patches of ground ... quite often it is negative progress."

He was right — when I accompanied the group earlier this month as it descended upon the North Vancouver Outdoor School property in Paradise Valley to conduct a survey — we covered a mere 200 metres in two hours.

It is one example of an army of citizen scientists, working tirelessly alongside biologists and scientists to meticulously document our flora and fauna in the Sea to Sky corridor. It's a race against time to prevent the vanishing of rare species before we fully comprehend their role in the complex web of life.

When the Vancouver Mycological Society last conducted a survey, back in 2006, 165 species of mosses, liverworts, fungi, ferns, herbaceous plants, grasses and invertebrates were recorded.

Kent Brothers, the other group leader, said that somewhere between 4,600 to 5,000 fungi species have been recorded in the province. Compare that to the bird species, which number at about 300.

The reason for this, he explained, is due to the fact fungi can live on a very wide variety of substrates and environments.

"As a general rule the world over, in any given habitat, there are six times as many fungi as vascular plants. In B.C. we have 3,000 vascular plants, so there should actually be 20,000 species of fungi but they're hard to study — the main body of the fungus grows underground in microscopic little threads."

As we meandered along, the weird and wonderful world of fungi was revealed to me. Peering closely at mosses and slime moulds through hand lenses and crinkling our noses at specimens which smelled distinctly like bleach, I was amazed at the astounding diversity of life forms often hidden right at our feet.

Some of the species discovered on these surveys were rare findings, Thompson informed me. A moss called Roell's Brotherella (Brotherella roellii) was found in the 2006 survey by biologist Steve Joya — a find that extends its range further north than previously recorded.

The moss is designated as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), and according to its 2010 assessment report, today the moss is known to grow in 26 current and four historical sites. A small, yellow to golden green moss that forms turf-like mats, populations of Roell's Brotherella, currently only exist in B.C.