A fully illustrated guide to the beautiful Xylaria fungi of the cloud forests of Ecuador, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth.
About this project
The Xylaria of the Cloud Forests of Ecuador will be a beautiful hardcover guide to the identification and classification of the fungal genus Xylaria from the Ecuadorian cloud forests, one of the most biodiverse places on earth. It will include nearly 50 species of Xylaria and be fully illustrated with gorgeous, traditional botanical illustrations showing these fungi in their true glory. This will be the most significant taxonomic work on this group of fungi in almost a quarter of century, and the first ever such work to be fully illustrated. It will be essential to anyone interested in tropical fungi, and anyone that loves traditional illustration.
The Fungi: Xylaria
Xylaria are wood decay fungi—they eat dead and decomposing wood—and are incredibly diverse. In North America and Europe, the most familiar species is probably the Candlesnuff Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon), or Dead Man’s Fingers (Xylaria polymorpha). In the tropics, the diversity of these fungi is staggering: there are more than 400 species of Xylaria known, and most of them occur in the tropics. And there are certainly many species unknown to science—this book will describe at least one of them for the first time ever.
These are some of the most common wood decay fungi in the tropics, which makes them very important to global carbon cycling, and thus climate change. When I started my dissertation, I wanted to study their ecology, how they live in the world and interact with the rest of the organisms in their ecosystems. To do that, I had to be able to identify them to species. And that was a problem: there is no guide to the species of Xylaria in the world. Taxonomy, the branch of science that orders and classifies organisms, has not really gotten to Xylaria yet. To figure out who these beautiful little fungi were, I had to dig back into a literature that sprawls over literally centuries, is often incomplete or contradictory—including more than 800 named species, of which more than half are incorrect for some reason. Now, I know how to identify theXylaria that grow in the Cloud Forests of Ecuador, and I want to share that knowledge by writing and illustrating a guide book.
I bring not only my unique knowledge of Xylaria to this book, but my life-long love of traditional botanical illustration. I have been an artist all my life, and doing technical illustration for nearly a decade. My scientific illustrations have been published in the journals Biological Invasions andBiotropica, and my graphic-narrative adaptation of Mary Miller’s story “A blind dog named Killer and a colony of bees” was published last year in the Nashville Review.
There are only a handful of people in the world that have the expertise and training to identify fungi like this, and that number is shrinking. Funding for basic science has been decreasing for decades, and as the budgets shrink, the first things that get cut are basic, less “sexy” branches of science (such as taxonomy). The thing is, this brick-and-mortar science is necessary for the more complex scientific disciplines. To study evolution in important crop pollinators, you need to know which insects are which. So you send the insects to a taxonomist. To hunt for cancer treatments in tropical rainforest plants you need to know which plants are which. So you send them to a taxonomist. To study the impact that wood decay fungi have on global carbon cycles, and thus climate change, you need to know which fungi are which. So you send them to me—or you use a copy of the book that results from Kickstarters like this one to identify them.
In addition to my own expertise, I’ll be drawing upon the expertise of many older, wiser heads than mine. I’ve been in communication with leading taxonomists about this project, including Dr. Yu-Ming Ju in Taiwan, Dr. Jack D. Rogers in Washington, and Dr. Thomas Læssøe, in Denmark. The science in this book will be up-to-date, accurate, and reviewed by leading experts in the field before publication.
Without funding for basic science, the existing taxonomists are nearing retirement, and training no replacements. Soon, no one will write these books, no one will illustrate them. I believe that we, as advocates for science and lovers of the beauty of nature, can help to solve this problem. Projects like this one don’t just breathe a little life into the study of a particular group of organisms, like the Xylaria, they send a strong message about the importance of basic scientific research, and the need for taxonomy and natural history. So please, click the green button and back this project.
This project will fund the remainder of the taxonomic research necessary, to be completed here at the University of Oregon, in collaboration with the Ecuadorian National Herbarium in Quito, as well the actual writing of the book, the production of the highest-quality illustrations of Xylaria available anywhere—which I am in the process of drawing—and the production of all the rewards.
Planning this has been a great education to me on what things cost: I’ve been involved in writing many scientific grants in the past decade, but I have not spent much time thinking about manufacturing and shipping costs. The large breakdown in the pie chart above splits the funding goal into broad classes: The “science” wedge of the pie is mostly personnel costs for the taxonomic and illustration work over the next year, as well as some supplies for microscopy. “Manufacturing” covers costs of actually producing all of the rewards, including the books. “Fulfillment” is the warehousing, distribution, and other services rendered by MakeThatThing, who are managing the logistics of the campaign. The size of the “shipping and handling” wedge of the pie surprised me a bit; it costs more to get all of these things out to people than it does to actually make them in some cases! Lastly, “taxes & fees” covers taxes assessed on all of this by the IRS and percentage fees that Kickstarter takes for itself and payment processing fees.
We’ve been working on some excellent rewards for you! The primary reward is, of course, a fully illustrated guidebook to the Xylaria of the Cloud Forests of Ecuador: I am creating clear and elegant line drawings to illustrate nearly fifty species of these strange and beautiful fungi, and including complete keys for identification, and information on collecting, preserving, and examining these fungi, as well a chapter on their fascinating ecology.
Additionally, there is a gorgeous full-color photographic supplement including as many of the species as possible, with field photography from Ecuador by Danny Newman, a mycologist and photographer of global renown.
We’re also offering Xylaria-themed t-shirts, stickers, postcards, posters, and a custom-designed bandana featuring a Xylaria-themed paisley designed exclusively for this Kickstarter. See some sample images and mock-ups below, and check the sidebar for pricing. Any two reward tiers can be combined by simply pledging the full amount for both, and leaving a note with your pledge! We’ll use a survey system for add-on.
Also, all of the original drawings will be available as a special reward tier!
Lastly, this book will describe at least one new species for the first time ever. If someone believes in this book enough to financially support a substantial portion of it, I will immortalize them in the mycological literature by naming a new species after them!
And everyone that contributes, however much, will have a spot in the acknowledgements of the book, and a special place in my heart. Thank you all!
Risks and challenges
Most of the ancillary rewards are almost ready to go: we have completed design files for the handkerchief, the t-shirt, and most of the postcards. We are working with the inestimable team at MakeThatThing to make all the things, warehouse and ship all the things, and generally make sure that fulfillment goes smoothly.
The challenge, and the risk, is in the science. This is a big project; there’s no doubt about that. This will be one of the most significant taxonomic works on Xylaria this century, and the first to include comprehensive illustrations. I’ve worked with these fungi for years as part of my dissertation, and have preliminary lists of species to include, drafts of several species descriptions, and completed illustrations for a handful of taxa. This gives me a pretty good idea of how much work is left: I estimate about a year of full-time work is needed to complete the book. That’s not small, and lots of things can go wrong in the interim, but I have dedicated collaborators, more knowledge of this particular group of species than almost anyone else alive, more than 600 collections currently in my possession, agreements in place with the Ecuadorian National Herbarium in Quito and good working relationships with the head curator there, and all the equipment needed to make this taxonomic study possible.
There is some risk of the taxonomic work and illustration taking longer than anticipated, but I am committed to project, and even if this Kickstarter does not successfully fund, I will continue to work on Xylaria taxonomy on my own time; there is no chance that this will not eventually happen.
To address concerns about scientific rigor: the final taxonomic scheme for the book, and all descriptions and keys, will be vetted by Dr. Yu-Ming Ju, the recognized world expert in the genus. He has, personally, examined the type specimens of nearly all described Xylaria, and trained with xylariologist Dr. Jack D. Rogers, who will also review the book if he is able. I will also be seeking review by Dr. Thomas Læssøe, who has done more work with neotropical cloud forest Xylaria than anyone else alive, and several other scientists who work on the group. Publishing outside of a traditional academic publishing house makes the cost much more reasonable, which should increase the ability for libraries to acquire the volume, and make it accessible to amateur mycologists around the world; it will not impact the quality of the book.