A new project by Nature P.E.I. is encouraging Islanders to go out and look for mushrooms, to help build an understanding of the different kinds of mushroom species on the Island and where they are located.
The group said not much attention has been given to mushrooms on P.E.I., and they're hoping the new citizen science project called Mushrooms of P.E.I. will change that.
"We know so little about them here on P.E.I., nothing has been done much in the past," said Rosemary Curley, president of Nature P.E.I.
"In terms of conservation, if you don't know what you have, you don't know how to save them. We want to document what we have now in the face of species loss and climate change. We need a baseline."
"Right now, there's a lot of interest in mushrooms, not just in P.E.I., but in Canada in general," said Ken Sanderson of Nature P.E.I. "So we're trying to capitalize on that and help people learn more."
Sanderson said there have been more than 300 different species identified in the project so far, but they are hoping to find up to 1,500 more species, possibly as many as 3,000.
He said they are also trying to expand their sightings of mushrooms using a mapping grid, with a goal of finding 20 different species per 10-kilometre square across Prince Edward Island.
"We're using iNaturalist to collect our data and to collate it. So people can just go out, look for mushrooms, take pictures and load them into iNaturalist," Sanderson said.
"Even if they don't know what they are, we can lend a hand at trying to identify them."
Sanderson said they are looking in particular for volunteers west of Summerside and south of Montague to help fill the gaps in their current mushroom mapping.
Sanderson's specialty is dune fungi, found on beaches including French River beach, where he has found six different species.
"I like them because they're hard and challenging to identify. They're very understudied, and I think they're pretty important for for dune health, which is important for climate change," Sanderson said.
"They also maintain the soil because they have kilometres and kilometres of these thread-like networks that hold the sand together, and transfer water, and balance water across the dune."
Sanderson said the next couple of months will be the best time to be out observing mushrooms.
"Prime time would be September, October. We'll start picking up in the later half of August. If it's a dry August, not so much," Sanderson said.
"Last year, in July, we had about 50 observations a week. But coming into September and October, we had easily 100 a week. So it picks up quite a bit."
Rosemary Curley said she hopes more Islanders will experience the excitement of the search for mushrooms.
"I mean, aside from the fact that it's fun to go out and look, and see what you can find," Curley said.
"You're looking for something. The search is half the fun, and the finding is the best half."