Erupting Zombie Mushroom Wins Unique Science Photography Contest

A parasitic fungus exploding out of its host’s body won the top prize this year BMC Ecology and Evolution photography contest, a unique competition organized by scientists and designed to creatively highlight the relationships between different species.

The competition covers four simple categories: Relationships in Nature, Biodiversity at Risk, Life Close Up and Research in Action. Winners are judged by senior members of the editorial board of the BMC Ecology and Evolution log.

“Our senior editorial board members used their expertise to ensure that the winning images were selected as much for the science stories behind them as for the technical quality and beauty of the images themselves,” the editor explained in Chef Jennifer Harman. “As such, the competition perfectly reflects BMC’s philosophy of innovation, curiosity and integrity.”

Winner of the Research in Action category. Researchers conduct fieldwork during thunderstorms of the COVID-19 pandemic

Jefferson Ribeiro Amaral

The top prize this year went to evolutionary biologist Roberto García-Roa for an incredible photo taken in the Peruvian jungle of Tambopata. The image illustrates how a mind-controlling parasitic fungus exits its host’s body once it has arrived at its optimal location for growth.

“The image represents a conquest that has been shaped by thousands of years of evolution,” Garcia-Roa explained. “The spores of the so-called ‘zombie’ fungus infiltrated the fly’s exoskeleton and mind and forced it to migrate to a place more conducive to the growth of the fungus. The fruiting bodies then burst from the body of the fly and will be jettisoned in order to infect more victims.

Winner of the Relationships in Nature category.  A waxwing feasts on fermented rowan berries
Winner of the Relationships in Nature category. A waxwing feasts on fermented rowan berries

ALWIN HARDENBOL

Winning the Relationships in Nature category was an incredible example of plant-bird interaction. The photo depicted a Bohemian Waxwing feasting on rowan berries. The presence of these sought-after berries influences the annual migrations of birds. And the sometimes high ethanol content of the berries means the birds have evolved larger than average livers to process the fruit.

“While this relationship is very beneficial for seed dispersal, it comes at a cost to the birds,” explained photographer Alwin Hardenbol. “As the berries become overripe, they begin to ferment and produce ethanol which intoxicates the Waxwings, sometimes resulting in bird trouble or even death. Unsurprisingly, Waxwings have evolved to have a relatively large liver to cope with their inadvertent alcoholism.”

Entry highly recommended.  Bioluminescent mushrooms in the rainforest of Borneo
Entry highly recommended. Bioluminescent mushrooms in the rainforest of Borneo

Julien Schrader

Take a look in our gallery for more highlights from this wonderful photography contest.

Source: BMC Ecology and Evolution