Sarah finds secret beauty

Sarah Lloyd amateur naturalist slime mould researcher

Sarah finds secret beauty

JUNE 2015 | JOANNE EISEMANN

SARAH LLOYD, amateur naturalist, is one of only a handful of people worldwide making a serious study of Myxomycetes since 2010.

These strange organisms were first described in the 1730s.

Furthermore, their unfortunate common name of ‘slime mould’ belies their, often, exquisite beauty and the fact that they are most often neither slimy nor mould-like.

They also exhibit unusual behaviours, which have led scientists on a merry dance in classification: from plant to fungi to animal and now protozoa.

Sarah’s investigations have increased the number of species of Myxomycetes recognised in Tasmania from 42 to 115, including one previously unknown to science and has been named after her – the Alwysia lloydiae.

“There are only about 1000 known species world wide, which is really amazing when… there are at least 1.5 million fungi and that is considered the tip of the iceberg. So why there are so few is a bit strange,” she shares.

“(Also) because no one else has done comprehensive surveys, there is not much work done in Australia,” adds Sarah.

“It’s really hard to study organisms that are mostly invisible.”

The study is made more difficult because of Myxomycetes’ unpredictable nature and difficulty in identification.

In most cases, scientists go into the field to collect specimens and take them back to the lab for identification.

However, Sarah’s research is a little different.

She is in the privileged position of being able to watch them grow through their developmental stages in their natural habitat as she does her studies from her home on Black Sugarloaf, Birralee.

This convenient location is possibly a hotspot for slime mould: not logged since the 1950s, there are many old logs lying around, standing dead trees and lots of litter on the ground – all providing plenty of organic matter on which to feed.

Sarah has published a book on her findings.

 ‘Where the Slime Mould Creeps – the fascinating world of Myxomycetes’ is filled with facts, anecdotes and wonderful images of slime mould; leaving readers in awe of the microbial world and how little they understand of it.

Part of a quote on page 39, from AAP December 29, 2011 on Myxomycetes is particularly intriguing: “A brainless primeval organism able to navigate a maze might help Japanese scientists devise the ideal transport network… Toshiyuki Nakagaki, a professor at Future University Hakodate, says the organism organises its cells to create the most direct route through a maze to a source of food… (And that) humans are not the only living things with information processing abilities.”

Sarah’s book ‘Where the Slime Mould Creeps’ is available through Petrarch’s Bookshop, in Launceston.

Alternatively, you can purchase by emailing: sarah lloyd@iprimus.com.au

 Mike Moores