Mushrooms above treeline: Imagine that!

Cathy Cripps


The cold, windswept tundra hardly seems like the place to look for mushrooms. But a diverse array of fungi do indeed live above treeline. They can be found tucked under willows, nestled among mosses, lying exposed in meadows and grasslands, and surviving on mud flats. These hardy, cold-loving species have roles as decomposers and nutrient gatherers for plants, and are only found above treeline on high mountain tops and plateaus or at low elevations in the Arctic. Our survey of alpine mushrooms on the Beartooth Plateau has revealed over two hundred species of mushroom-producing fungi and we are connecting them via their DNA to their nearest relatives in Greenland, Iceland, Svalbard, Arctic Canada, the Alps and Scandinavia. Who knew?


Cathy Cripps

Author Cathy Cripps is a Mycologist and Professor at Montana State University where she teaches and does research on fungi. She earned her BS from the University of Michigan and PhD from Virginia Tech. Her research on mushrooms that survive in Arctic and alpine habitats has taken her to Iceland, Svalbard, Norway, Greenland, the Austrian Alps, Finland, and Alaska. Her decades-long ecological and taxonomic work has revealed the diversity of mushrooms on the Beartooth Plateau and above tree line in the Rocky Mountains. She is lead author of “The Essential Guide to Rocky Mountain Mushrooms by Habitat”, editor of “Fungi in Forest Ecosystems” and “Arctic and Alpine Mycology 8”, and author of numerous scientific papers. With over 40 years of experience collecting mushrooms, first as an amateur when she lived in a cabin in Colorado and later as a professional leading forays and teaching field classes in Montana, her love and enthusiasm for the fungal creatures of the Rocky Mountains runs deep.