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On a Mission for Mushrooms

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

NMU student, Makena Ridiros shares her experience working with UPLC on her senior capstone project

Since moving to Marquette from my small hometown in Illinois, the Chocolay Bayou Nature Preserve has been a place of great solitude for me. Over the course of my two years living close to the Bayou, my favorite outdoor activity, by far, has been mushroom hunting. In the summer and fall, especially after rainy days, the Bayou is teeming with mushrooms of seemingly all varieties. Very quickly, mushroom hunting became one of my favorite pastimes. To learn about what I saw, I bought a field guide and downloaded a mushroom-scanning app. Since then, I’ve scanned almost 130 different mushrooms on my app, which thankfully have been saved and documented (little did I know at the time that I would be using them for my senior project!).

As an Environmental Studies and Sustainability major at Northern Michigan University, I naturally gravitated toward UPLC’s mission - to protect land today for life tomorrow. I decided to work with UPLC for my capstone because this mission closely aligns with what I believe in and it really embodies what sustainability is all about.

Along the trail of the Bayou, there are informational signs visitors can read as they walk. For my project, I thought it would be interesting to propose a sign that showcases fungi in relation to other organisms of the bayou, as a way to bring them into the light a bit (despite their preferences for shade). Working with Hannah Boyd and Emilyn Staat, the Communications Manager and Lands Program Assistant of UPLC, as well as analyzing my data over the previous mushroom seasons, I’ve narrowed down my sign topic to mycorrhizal fungi. Specifically, I hope to showcase the relationship between Eastern White Pine trees and the fungi genera Suillus and Russula. I think that the importance of this project stems from the many roles fungi play in a forest ecosystem, many of which happen under our feet unseen. By the end of this project, my main goal is to have designed an information-rich sign for people to enjoy and learn from for years to come.

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