A Brief Survey of Æster-Related Mutations
The major changes mycological life under the Æster may be summarized in four broad categories:
Structural “Tree” Analogs (example genera include Phaeogyroporus, Boletus and Armillaria)
Understory/Scrub/Shrub/Ground cover Analogs (example genera include Calvatia, Bridgeoporus, Lycoperdon, Volvariella)
Aquatic - (seaweed analogs and floating mats; examples include polymorphic oomycetes, hyphomycetes & chytrid species)
“Chimera” or families of fungi or related species that existed previously, but have emerged in new, radically changed forms. (Examples include phylum Acrasiomycota, especially of the genus Dictyostelium, Cordyceps “zombie” organisms, phylum zygomy-cota, esp. Genera Dactylaria and Dactylella, which have evolved to attack larger species.)
One can only imagine the shock on behalf of members of the Parker Expedition to Tasmania in PÆ 34, when they encountered the first of many mushroom forests:
|“Col. Parker called the expedition to a halt when we reached the outskirts of what was once Beaconsfield, a town south of our landing at Georgetown. The cause was quite evident: as far as we could perceive before us, in the brief light of occasional æster flashes, ranged unending ranks of enormous toadstools. As if transported directly from Lewis Carroll’s novels, they were limed variously in pastel glows of yellow, red and green. From amongst them issued mysterious calls of unseen creatures, unknown and alarming.”
-from “My Adventures in Tasmania”,
Breaker Colville, Parker Expedition Notes, PÆ 33
Variants of what Mr. Colville saw have since been found on all continents under the Nyx, save Antarctica. Universally, it appears to be different variations of the genus Phaeogyroporus with slightly lesser contributions from Boletus and Armillaria. Typically, individuals range from 15-25 meters in height, with caps from 5-10 meters in diameter. Most amazingly, the growth is annual in nature, with entire forests rising and dying back each year. Each cycle is accompanied by an equally incredible frenzy of insect and animal activity, which relies on the resources presented by the mushrooms. If exploitable, such amazing growth represents a vast potential for humanity.
Whilst the “Tree” forms dominate over vast ranges of territory under the Nyx, in areas with lesser levels of æsterfall and precipitation, still other mycological wonders have taken hold.
In particular, in north central regions of the Dominion of Canada, Nightman tribes have been found to survive splendidly, harvesting the large forms of fungi from the genus Calvatia. Supplemented with occasional meat, their diet is quite sustainable, save for the shortage of citrus typical of Nyx neo-barbarian groups, and its attendant endemic scurvy. (Side note: this, combined with the pervasive presence of hallucinogenic alkaloids from minor species, is the primary constraint on many emerging Nyx cultures. Use of hallucinogens with many groups has established a cult-like status, with attendant disruptions to social structures and cohesion). Under-story forms appear everywhere in the Nyx and deep into the Argentum, where sunlight and rainfall are insufficient to sustain either macrofungi from Phaeogyroporus, or photosynthesis. Bridgeoporus “puff balls” of over 3-meter diameter have been documented (Parker, PÆ 33). Calvatia is more prominent in arid regions. Where insufficient water exists, activity is limited to low-moisture tolerant molds and bacteria.
Free-floating fungal mats were encountered very early on during the Rise. The first sightings of such mats were reported from various naval forces, patrolling through the north Pacific and Atlantic as early as PÆ 20. These mostly chytrid species have since created virtual “Sargasso” seas in many oceanic locations, which are almost impenetrable, except by the largest of vessels specially equipped to cut through them. Unlike Sargasso mats, these are more ephemeral, sinking after sporulation and subsequent decay of the fruiting bodies.
Closer to shore, other species (oomycetes, hyphomycetes) appear to be exploiting ecological niches previously occupied by kelp and rock weed. As such, this has led to littoral and near-shore ecologies which are nearly as vibrant as those found in the same locations pre-æster. In fact, populations of sea otter and orca have increased dramatically along the Pacific coast north of the California Republic.
Chimeras represent at once both the most exciting and disturbing creatures to emerge from the Nyx. They are species that previously were unusual in nature (slime molds, insectivorous fungi, parasitic species) and small in size.
Cellular and plasmoidial slime molds, (eumycetozoans; myxomycetes; protostelids; acrasiomycota; dictyosteliomycota; myxomycota; ramicristates, and particularly, dictyostelids), and related species have also undergone radical changes which appear related to long-term exposure to æster.
The genus Dictyostelium, which originally grew on dung and decaying vegetation, developed a significant, but in some ways un-surprising change in diet, size and behavior. Species of this cellular slime mold genus still utilize a multi-cellular reproductive stage, but it is five orders of magnitude more massive than the pre-æster species (Williamson, PÆ 53). As to its diet, the amoeboid stage has enhanced the paralytic secretions found in some species of this genus, to an intensity that can affect higher life forms, including mammals. The precise mechanism of secretion is as yet unstudied, but common apocryphal Nightman stories persist of corpses found either completely covered by the amoeboid stage of the mold, or supporting very large (greater than 1 meter diameter) fruiting bodies. The exact mechanism of capture is similarly yet to be documented, but as the mutant versions of the mold can only cover approximately one meter of distance per hour, it is likely the result of encounters with injured or sleeping individuals. (Goldsmith Hudson’s Bay expedition reports, PÆ 35)
Equally unusual is the change that has taken place in some species of the genera Dactylaria and Dactylella. In their pre-æster and still extant forms, these are still major predators of soil nematodes across many climates. Under the Nyx, both have evolved to “gigantic” forms, capable of trapping animals up to, and including the size of un-mutated norway- and black-rats (20-30 cm.) (Jones, PÆ 43). It is hypothesized that still larger and aquatic forms may exist or are undergoing evolution as well.
Mutations of Cordyceps have produced many species that are especially dangerous to higher life forms (Stevens, PÆ 31). Cordyceps species are known to cause “Vegetable Caterpillars” so known to the Chinese as “dong chong xia cao”, important to their traditional medicine. Variants of this genus have evolved to attack larger organisms, including vertebrates. It was thought initially that this fungus was the mechanism responsible for Ottoman Janissary zombies so infamous in conflicts in North Africa and the Khyber (Simons, PÆ 37). In fact, individuals afflicted by this fungus lack all but the most rudimentary motor control. Early stages of infection appear to effect higher neural functions in a manner similar to rabies, with similar behavioral effects (Simons, ibid.). Unfortunately, unlike rabies, no consistently effective treatment has yet been developed for Cordyceps toxicity.
Most dramatic of the Chimera forms are reports of unknown species found in the vicinity of Jan Mayen Island and its volcano by the PÆ 74 expedition from whence its namesake is derived. If observations can be thoroughly corroborated, the report suggests a world entirely beyond that of previous human experience. The expedition found nothing less than a gargantuan mycelium of Brobdingnagian proportions rising from the island and sea, all the way to the highest reaches of the Æster and colonized by a bizarre and wondrous assemblage of animal life. It is hoped that current efforts to locate and investigate the so-called “Hanging Garden” will reveal more of its mysteries!
Mycology has emerged as a most dynamic modern discipline in the broad realm of biological sciences. The explosion of new species and forms presents challenges to students and teachers alike, in simply cataloging the myriad changes now appearing. Equally exciting is research into how to utilize these new species, as no doubt the immense variety will provide resources hitherto un-utilized.