We don’t know as much as we need to about the fungi that occur across the Gondw ana Link area. Throughout Australia (and perhaps most parts of the world) research into fungi is many decades behind that of other organisms - there is little known or understood about their diversity and the roles they play within ecosystems. The majority is unknown and intensive searches following rain generally reveal new and interesting species and even new genera. And this is perhaps one of the reasons that fungi can be hard to study – their occurrence is sporadic and the fruiting bodies only appear at irregular intervals, with some of the microfungi requiring specialist equipment to detect.
More than 90% of plants are believed to have some form of symbiotic fungal partners which enable their survival in nutrient-poor soils of southern Western Australia by extracting essential minerals and passing them on through interaction inside the plants’ root cells. The seeds of native orchids can only germinate with the assistance of microscopic fungal partners. Many native plants have some form of arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi that are believed to increase the plants efficiency in extracting phosphate from our low-phosphate soils by effectively extending the root area in contact with the soil. Most of the Myrtace are ectomycorrhiza and the fungal partners produce macrofungal fruiting bodies, Australia’s low nutrient soils massive diversity in Australias forests and woodlands. The health of these woody species rely on their ectomycorrhizal partners.
Some intricate co-dependencies of fungi, mammals, invertebrates and plants are also beginning to reveal themselves. Australia has an abundance of small, truffle-like fungi (more species here than anywhere else in the world) whose spores can only be distributed with outside assistance – such as that provided by Potoroos (Potorous gilbertii) and Woylies (Bettongia penicillata) which rely almost entirely on them for food. Fungi are also consumed by many other native animals, both vertebrates and invertebrates. Other kinds of fungi recycle organic matter (eg wood-rotting fungi) and make their contribution by returning nutrients to the ecosystem.
There is potential for the restoration of native vegetation, which is so central to the work of achieving Gondwana Link, to be enhanced by learning more about the role of fungi in seed germination and plant growth. Fungibank was a CSIRO-based project that is trying to do just that, but work is in its early stages and needs to be continued.
Fungi in the broad sense make up about 10% of Australia’s biodiversity and yet we have only named about 25% of this amazing diversity. Plants and vertebrates only make up 7% of Australia’s biodiversity, yet more than 90% of these have been named. Chapman AD (2009) Numbers of living species in Australia and the world. (Australian Biological Resources Study, Canberra).
An important aspect of land management in Australia is the appropriate use of fire. A recent review of how fire affects the fungi in Australian ecosystems highlighted the paucity of local data for fire management. The current supposition is that if there is a diversity patches with different times since fire that most fungal species should be supported by such management - see Tommerup IC, Bougher NL, Syme K, Syme A, Fernie G (2000) Preliminary guidelines for managing fungal biodiversity in remnant Eucalyptus marginata or other Eucalyptus forest types using fire as a tool. Ecological Management and Restoration 1, 146-147. One of the difficulties is in retaining sufficient long un-burnt areas. McMullan-Fisher SJM, May TW, Robinson RM, Bell TL, Lebel T, Catcheside P, York A (2011) Fungi and fire in Australian ecosystems: a review of current knowledge, management implications and future directions. Australian Journal of Botany 59, 70-90.
We’re fortunate to have a well known botanical artist and mycologist, Katrina Syme, living in Denmark on the south coast. Katie has been recording and documenting fungi over different parts of the Gondwana Link area, particularly in the South Coast NRM Region, since 1991 and has lodged over two thousand collections of fungi from the region in Australian herbaria. Three hundred of these are named species; the records also include species which remain unidentified, known but unnamed fungi and a number which are new to science.
More information on fungi can be found by following these links to external websites:
- FungiBank was focused on the use of fungi in restoration of native landscapes.
- Fungimap aims to improve information of Australia’s fungi – particularly what fungi occur where, and uses “citizen science” to improve the mapping of fungi distribution.
- Australian Fungi Website provides background about fungi generally, fungal ecology, uses of fungi, fungal research in Australia, truffle-like fungi and much more. These sites have good advice on collecting, identifying and contributing to the development of better information on Australia’s fungi.
- A simple fungi Field ID Guide on the Shire of Denmark, Western Australia, website.