[PHOTO CREDIT: KAREN VANDERWOLF/NB MUSEUM – a culture of Pseudogymnoascus destructans growing on agar in the lab]
The fungus that causes white-nose syndrome, Geomyces destructans, has been renamed Pseudogymnoascus destructans in a recent paper published in the journal ‘Fungal Biology’.
Explaining why this name change occurred requires some background knowledge on fungal biology.
Many fungi reproduce both sexually and asexually. Asexual reproduction, or the ability to produce a clone of yourself, is less energetically expensive than sexual reproduction. Sexual reproduction is beneficial in introducing genetic diversity into a population. Unfortunately for mycologists, the asexual stage of fungi often looks very different from the sexual stage. Therefore it can be hard to tell that two specimens are the same species. In the past, the asexual stage of a fungus was given a different scientific name from the sexual stage. This means that each species of fungi had two scientific names! In 2011 scientists decided to change this system to make things less confusing. The new system is ‘one fungus, one name’ where the asexual names of fungi will no longer be used.
The name Geomyces destructans represents the asexual stage of the white-nose fungus so under the new ‘one fungus, one name’ system Pseudogymnoascus destructans is the correct name. The white-nose fungus was first described in 2009, predating the introduction of the new naming system.
The world of fungal taxonomy is certainly a confusing one!