In the field of mycology, the potential for treating pathogens with fungal exudates is a commonly appreciated subdiscipline that is getting more and more attention. The secondary compounds many fungi produce have an insane amount of pharmacological potential, not only for our own immune system but for the immune systems of other invaluable species. A few years back, the Rockstar of modern day applied mycology, Paul Stamets, highlighted the importance of fungal compounds in maintaining honey bee health. His recent studies demonstrate forest connectivity through the immunological services healthy ecosystems provide.
The main culprit of this worldwide bee epidemic is a parasitic mite with a dangerous sounding name; Varroa destructor. This fat feeding parasite vectors viruses to bees that ultimately lead to the collapse of the colonies. Past studies show that these mites are associated with around ten different honey bee viruses! Nearly one year ago, Paul Stamets and his teaminvestigated the antiviral activity of two long-lived polypore genera,Ganodermaand Fomes. The fungal extracts were then administered to bees infected with bee deformed wing virus (DWV) and Lake Sinai virus (LSV). There results were simply staggering, showing the extracts from Ganoderma resinaceumprovided a 79-fold reduction in DWV and a 45,000-fold reduction in LSV!
These long-lived polypores are prime fungal suspects to produce powerful beneficial compounds. Ephemeral fungal species that fruit, release their spores and decay in just a few days need not to expend resources to produce defensive compounds. On the contrary, perennial fungi that live for decades, and even centuries do need to invest resources into defensive compounds. Any organism that lives long is in the same boat, whether it be a plant, fungus, or animal. The longer you live, the more pathogens you will encounter. In long-lived species, natural selection has favored the evolution of multiple defensive bio-active compounds. And, with fungi being so closely related to the animal kingdom, many of the evolved defensive compounds work just as well in animals. We truly are just scratching the surface of the immunological potential forests behold.
Just a few days ago, two aspiring scientists reached out to me, and inquired if I knew where to locate a species of long-lived polypore, Fomes fomentarius. These young researchers want to investigate further into the immunological services fungi may provide honey bees. Instead of spending $350 dollars on Fomes fomentarius extracts from biochemical distributers, these two researches and I are going on a fungal foray to collect these specimens ourselves. Usually on my hikes, I tend to survey the forest floor without looking for something specific. Next week however, I can’t wait to get in the woods to look for this organism.
Biodiverse forests are largely untapped reservoirs of biochemical products humans can utilize to reverse some of our negative environmental influences. The time is now to act on protecting colony forming bees. Discovering new fungal derived compounds and applying them to vulnerable bee populations may be the most promising restoration effort over the past two decades. The interplay between forest fungal diversity, and bee health showcases the importance of forest connectivity. The more ecological interactions I learn about, the better I understand the influence of forest connectivity. Forests that are highly connected provide ecological and immunological services not only to other species living in the same forests, but species living in neighboring ecosystems as well. A clear positive feedback is apparent as temperate forests with high fungal diversity promote bee health, which in turn increases plant biodiversity.