The importance of being fungi

Shows three tiny orange mushrooms against moss, Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve

Tiny mushroom fungi, late May – Galerina hypnorum

Types of fungi

Fungi have been sorted into types In order to recognise and identify them. The various forms of fungus – that is, mushrooms, puffballs, moulds, brackets, corals, jellys, chanterelles – are the fruits of a spreading mass of ‘roots’ or threads (mycelium) in the soil or the wood in which the fungus is growing.

The basis for these types are discussed by Bill Leithhead on his Fungi site and can also be found on the Australian National Botanical Gardens and Australian National Herbarium fungi site.

On display

Fungi fruit in autumn and early winter and here in the Edward Hunter Heritage Bush Reserve, that has mainly been happening over the last six weeks.

Here, below, is a selection of the range of fungi found in the Reserve at present.

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Beneficial relationships

Fungi are an important and perhaps fundamental part of the ecosystem.

They do cause disease in plants and there are parasites that consume insects and plants. They also form beneficial relationships with eucalypts, wattles and orchids, for example, in symbiotic mycorrhizal relationships. Basically, the fungus gains access to carbohydrates and the tree gains access to essential nutrients through their connection. This symbiotic relationship means that maintaining healthy green plants results in conserving diversity in fungi and vice versa.

Fungi recycle nutrients into the ecosystem by breaking down wood. Different fungi have a preference for different wood types and fungi are among a very small number of species that can break down the cellulose and lignin in wood. This wood decay function has an important role in providing habitat for other creatures; for example, creating hollows for birds and arboreal mammals in living trees or leading to coarse woody debris on the forest floor that can create microclimates for ground dwelling species.

Fungi also provide food for mammals, insects and birds. In turn, fungal spores are spread elsewhere.

See our Fungi page for more.

Sources and further resources

Gaye (2013) Australian Fungi – A Blog http://australianfungi.blogspot.com.au/

Hopkins, AJM (2007) The taxonomy and ecology of wood decay fungi in Eucalyptus obliqua trees and logs in the wet sclerophyll forests of southern Tasmania. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania. http://eprints.utas.edu.au/7959/

Lepp, H., Australian National Botanic Gardens and Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research, Canberra (2012) Australian Fungi http://www.anbg.gov.au/fungi/index.html

Leithhead, W. G. (n.d.) Fungi Home Page. http://www.elfram.com/fungi/fungi_home.html

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