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Big Puma Fungus Rediscovered After 36 Years

A collaborative expedition by the Fungi Foundation and Fundación Nahuelbuta has successfully rediscovered the elusive big puma fungus, otherwise known as the Austroomphaliaster nahuelbutensis, in Chile's Nahuelbuta Mountains. This significant find marks the first time a fungi species has been rediscovered by Re:Wild's Search for Lost Species initiative.

The big puma fungus, which was last seen in the wild in the 1980s, was a top target for Re:Wild’s global search program. The expedition, led by Daniela Torres from the Fungi Foundation, retraced the steps of Chilean mycologist Norberto Garrido, who originally discovered the species in 1988. By aligning their search with the exact dates Garrido had explored the mountains, the team was able to increase their chances of finding it.

The expedition team searching for the Big Puma Fungus in the Nahuelbuta Mountains in Chile, May 2023. (Photo by Catalina Infante/Fungi Foundation)

Claudia Bustamante, a mycologist, and member of the expedition team, stated: “It’s possible that the reproductive parts of the big puma fungus—the mushroom—are only fleetingly visible above the soil on the same few days each year, which made the timing of the expedition a crucial factor."

Despite an intensive search over several days in May 2023, the expedition team initially found only one small mushroom. However, during a community hike on the last day, local participants discovered a group of mushrooms matching the big puma fungus’s description. DNA analysis confirmed the rediscovery.

Mushrooms over drawings depicting the big puma fungus (Austroomphaliaster nahuelbutensis), made by Garrido in 1988. Image Credits: (Photo by Catalina Infante/Fungi Foundation).

“The story behind this rediscovery encapsulated all of the aspects that can help ensure a successful outcome,” said Christina Biggs, program officer for Re:wild’s Search for Lost Species. “These discoveries are often collaborative efforts between scientists and local communities, and since scientists think it’s likely only 10% of species in the fungi kingdom have been described, these kinds of partnerships are increasingly important since plants, animals and fungi are all facing threats.”

Re:Wild’s Search for Lost Species, supported by Colossal Biosciences, has rediscovered 13 other lost species worldwide since its inception in 2017. For example, in 2022, there was a rare crab species that was discovered after more than a century, and a Batman river loach rediscovered in Turkey after 50 years.

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