Mar 16 2020

Rare wildlife discovered in two Scotland rainforests

 

Fungus gnats at Loch Arkaig

 

A survey of insects at Loch Arkaig Pine Forest, near Spean Bridge, has revealed two tiny gnats never before recorded in Britain:

 

  • Boletina gusakovae, more usually found in Finland and Russia
  • Mycetophila idonea, normally found in Estonia, Poland, Slovakia, Georgia and Luxembourg.

 

Both are from a large group of tiny flies known as fungus gnats, as their larvae feed on fungi. Just one male of each species has been found, but surveyor Ian Strachan believes the two species have been at Loch Arkaig undetected for a long time. There’s no way to know when or why they arrived here, but Ian predicts sustainable breeding populations are likely.

 

The survey is one of many at Loch Arkaig helping us track changes as we restore the ancient Caledonian pinewoods over the coming decades. The site is made up of different blocks of habitat including rainforest, ancient pine forest and peatland and it was in two large stands of ancient Scots pine forest that the gnats were recorded. A malaise trap, which looks like a small tent, was set up to funnel flying insects into a collection jar which was emptied once a month from May until September in 2018.

 

Credit: Ian Strachan

The malaise traps used to capture the insects look like small tents.

 

Analysing the survey results

 

Ian has spent hours sorting through some 20,000 specimens from the Loch Arkaig traps. He uses a binocular microscope as most of the insects are less than 1mm in size – that’s smaller than the thickness of a pencil line!

 

So far, 262 species have already been recorded with ID help from experts.

 

Most are common, some are rare, and some – like this pair of gnats – have never been recorded in the UK before. Vladimir Blagoderov at the National Museums Scotland was key to recognising the two newcomers from over 1,500 fungus gnats Ian has separated out.

 

It’s a laborious process, but he’s dedicated to the cause. Still painstakingly dividing the samples, Ian reckons it could take years before the species are all identified.

 

Credit: Bruno D’Amicis / naturepl.com

Fungus gnats are so-named as their larvae feed on fungi before hatching into tiny flies.

 

Hazel gloves fungus discovered at Dunollie Wood

 

The second exciting discovery was made by members of Lorn Natural History Group. They were delighted to spot hazel gloves fungus, Hypocreopsis rhododendri, during a recent visit to Dunollie Wood in Oban. After identifying a small sample on a windblown twig, the group explored the area for more and were able to find the fungus on two standing trees. Our team then pinpointed it at another two spots in the wood.

 

This is a significant find, as hazel gloves fungus is an indicator of high quality temperate rainforest. It’s also a priority species on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and Scottish Biodiversity List.

 

The fungus is so-called as its plump extended lobes in shades of orange and brown look like the fingers of leather gloves. In Britain it only grows on old hazel trees. Globally rare, these fantastic fingers give their best display from August to December.

 

Credit: Jan Hamilton / Lorn Natural History Group

Hazel gloves fungus is an indicator of high quality temperate rainforest.

 

Our Scottish Rainforest Five

 

Found along the west coast and on the inner isles, Scotland’s rainforests are a unique habitat of ancient and native woodlands, open glades, boulders, crags, ravines and river gorges. The finds were made at two of the chain of five rainforests in our care:

 

  • Dunollie Wood, Oban
  • Loch Arkaig Pine Forest, Spean Bridge
  • Uig Wood, Skye
  • Ben Shieldaig, Torridon
  • Crinan Wood, Argyll.

 

All five are spectacular and important sites where the biodiversity is fantastically rich. The new discoveries add to the many iconic plants and animals already found here.

 

Among the Atlantic oak wood, hazel wood and birch at Dunollie grow delicate flowers, ferns, mosses and lichens. Pine marten, red squirrel, hedgehog and bats all live here, and lucky visitors may spot otters along the nearby sea shore.

 

At Loch Arkaig, badger, red deer and red squirrel have all been captured on camera. Swooping over the loch are sea eagles, golden eagles and the ospreys watched by our live nest cam. Ancient ‘granny’ pine trees give clues to the site’s history, and standing deadwood is home to a wide variety of lichens and invertebrates. And the azure hawker dragonfly, found only in Scotland, has been recorded here too.

 

From below ground to beyond the treetops, these places are brimming with life. Many of their species are nationally and globally rare. Some can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

 

George Anderson

PR & Communications Officer – Scotland

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