A unified taxonomy and biogeography of Helvella (Pezizomycetes, Ascomycota) in the Nordic countries (completed)

The project team has recently finished a broad-scaled biosystematic study of Helvella in Europe, taking the advantage of multiple gene genealogies, single gene sequences and morphological characters to clarify species limits and assess species-level relationships (low level phylogenies) in this stout and charismatic group of ascomycetous fungi (Skrede, Carlsen & Schumacher 2017). The current project is a follow up study of the occurrence and biogeography of this species-rich group of fungi in the Nordic countries. 

Helvella arctoalpina togetherwith its ectomycorrhizal host Dryas octopetala. Photo: Trond Schumacher

About the project

The project aims to explore, DNA-barcode and map the speciose ascomycete genus Helvella L. in Norway and the Nordic countries by:

  • Surveying field collections in four Helvella rich nature types and districts with the goal of adding new and important collections to biogeographic patterns of Helvella species occurring in Norway
  • Using a DNA barcoding approach to survey the fungarium specimens of Helvella deposited in the Nordic University fungaria and map the distribution of Helvella species in the Nordic countries
  • Creating two Helvella specific DNA sequence databases for the secondary barcode markers hsp (heat shock protein 90) and rpb2 (RNA polymerase II) and an ITS (Internal Transcribed Spacer) nrDNA primary barcode sequence database in collaboration with NORBOL to assist in molecular identification of specimens of Helvella


The project  addresses "Artsprosjektet"s primary mandate: Strengthening knowledge of poorly known eukaryote organismic groups in Norway, inclusive Svalbard. The genus Helvella is such a target group, including a number of species with a much restricted global distribution, of which many are confined to Norway and the Nordic countries.

The project will result in publicly available reference sequence DNA barcode databases allowing for authorative identification of Helvella spp. by molecular means, and produce detailed prevalence and extension maps of the distribution of extant Helvella species, including the unrecorded ones, in Norway and the Nordic countries.


Helvella is a speciose genus of the order Pezizales of the Pezizomycetes (Ascomycota) that comprises a polymorphic group of larger apothecial fungi, ranging in shape from subsessile to stipitate, with a cupulate or lobed and folded fertile 'head', seated on a cylindrical, ribbed and/or furrowed stipe. Although easily distinguished from other macrofungi by their apothecial shape, it is surprisingly difficult to morphologically distinguish between species. Large phenotypic plasticity as a response to ecological and biogeographic features in many species and the lack of good, distinctive (species-specific) microscopic characters to discriminate among them are main reasons for these difficulties. This led last century mycologists to adopt a rather broad morphological species concept, which has turned out to be mostly incompatible with the present-day (phylo)genetic species concept that is to be preferred. In a previous study of ca. 400 fungarium specimens of Helvella deposited in the University fungaria of Copenhagen and Oslo, the team inferred 56 phylogenetic species of Helvella in Europe (Skrede, Carlsen & Schumacher 2017). In that work, the species limits and naming of the currently recognized European Helvella species were revised and a number of early morphospecies aggregates phylogenetically resolved. Four species were also described as new based on materials from one or more of the Nordic countries. Extrapolating data from this work on specimens collected in the Nordic countries of Norway inclusive of Svalbard, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and Finland, gives 47 spp. occurring within here. However, nothing is known about their distributions and additional species are likely to be found. 

In 'Artsdatabanken' and 'GBIF-Norway' 34 Helvella species are recorded from Norway, however, eight 'species' represent synonymous taxa, thus rendering 26 species so far reported from Norway. Since species names and maps of species distribution in extant lists and maps are based on an out-dated taxonomy and not current knowledge of species limits and diversity of the group, it is concluded that the present records 1) do not reflect the current status of biodiversity and genetic knowledge of Helvella spp. in Norway (and the Nordic countries, and 2) at best represents an underestimate of the true diversity of Helvella species within here, which 3) call for a re-assessment of the actual species diversity and biogeography of Helvella spp. within the Nordic countries.

The "Background" description is a revised version of "Background" found in the project application.


The Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre ('Artsdatabanken')


The Norwegian Biodiversity Information Centre ('Artsdatabanken')


The project started 1.11.2015 and runs to 30.06.2019.

Tags: Helvella, Fungi, Artsdatabanken, Sopp
Published June 13, 2017 12:59 PM - Last modified Feb. 7, 2020 3:47 PM