Fungi are everywhere in our environment. Fungi are both beneficial and destructive to agriculture. They cause plant disease but also increase the fertility of soil to enhance production. Without fungi we would not have antibiotics, bread, wine, beer and other delightful things. We would not have nasties like tinea and ringworm either.
Healthy soil is needed to grow healthy plants. Soil is made up of organic matter, air, water, minerals and organisms. Fungi make up about 2% of soil. Three of the most important functions of fungi are:
- Breakdown of organic matter
- Provide food
- Transfer of nutrients
Fungi break down organic matter by exuding enzymes. Some fungi are particularly good at decomposing leaf, bark and litter that builds up on the ground. Other fungi specialize in breaking down wood like logs, stumps and branches. The brown rotter’s break down the cellulose in the plant cells and the white rotter’s break down both cellulose and lignin; but for wood to rot it must have more than 25% moisture content. White rot fungi can also breakdown pollutants in the soil, including DDT, PCB’s, Dioxin and TNT. Without fungi the world would be drowning in metres and metres of leaf litter and waste material.
Fungi are a food source for many insects and animals including reptiles and mammals.Often when I look at the underside of a mushroom I see lots of little bugs. I like eating mushrooms but wont die if I cant buy them. However, there are endangered species that eat a diet of 80% fungi! One such species is the Gilbert’s Potaroo from Western Australia. The Long Nose Potaroo from Queensland is listed as vulnerable. It too relies on fungi.
If we don’t find ways to look after the fungi, these species will be lost.
Like the apple is to the apple tree, the mushroom you buy in the shop is the fruit of the mushroom body. The ‘real’ mushroom is the mass of tiny threads called mycelium or hyphae that you might see if you scrape back the leaf litter. These hyphae travel into the roots of plants and set up a transport network. Fungi have no chlorophyll so cannot make their own food, they are more like animals as they ‘eat’ their food. The fungi uptake nutrients, particularly phosphorus, from the soil and deliver these to the plant. In return the plant provides carbohydrates for the fungi. The mycelium can connect two trees, if a seedling is struggling in too much shade, a nearby tree can send food via the fungal mycelium to feed the youngster.
Many plants, including orchids cannot survive without their fungal partner.
The knowledge of Fungi in Australia is about where flowering plants were in the 1850’s. It is predicted there are between 50,000 and 250,000 fungi species in Australia. About 11,000 species have been identified. In one year I have found two very unusual specimens in my yard. First there was Tetrapyrgos nigripes – this species had never been found in Australia before. Then a Storked Puffball was found. According to the mycologist who identified it, this Tulostoma macrosporum has previously only been recorded from Dubbo in NSW in 1925 and another collection in Canberra in 1986. In 2010 it appeared in my front yard! The possibility of discovering new, unnamed species here in Centenary is very high!
In Queensland all fungi were protected under the Nature Conservation Act 1992, Nature Conservation (Protected plants) Conservation Plan 2000. It was an offense to pick or collect mushrooms without a permit. The legislation has changed recently; however fungi, as all wildlife, are still protected.
In 2014 WaCC undertook a survey of fungi in West Brisbane. This resulted in the publication of “A Little Field to West Brisbane Fungi”. Click this link to download a free copy. Fungi_Field_Guide
A copy of the report can be found here WBFSurvey Report 20150208-MP
Recent ‘Fun-Finds’ In Our Catchments