G.A.M. Scott, T.J. Entwisle, T.W. May & G.N. Stevens
Environment Australia, May 1997
ISBN 0 6422 1399 2
Tom W. May
5.1.1. Taxonomic scope
In older classification systems, fungi were included within the plant kingdom and were separated from other plant groups by the lack of photosynthesis and by the production of spores. It is now generally agreed by mycologists that fungi are not plants, and their treatment as a separate kingdom was recognised in the 7th edition of the Dictionary of the Fungi (published in 1983). For practical purposes the classification used in the Dictionary is adopted here (see section 5.9). More recently, an increasing number of mycologists (e.g. Hawksworth 1991) are accepting that the fungi should be distributed among three kingdoms: the Protoctista, the Chromista and the Mycota (or Fungi). The bulk of the fungi are retained within the kingdom Mycota. A detailed classification to ordinal level, using the above three kingdoms, has been prepared for use in the fungal volumes of the Flora of Australia (J.Walker 1996).
The higher classification of the fungal kingdom followed here recognises two divisions, five subdivisions and more than 90 orders. Many orders contain numerous families. There is a great diversity of structure and function among the various groups included in the fungi; from yeast to mushroom or from pine mould to morel there is at least as much difference as there is between gymnosperms and angiosperms or between invertebrates and vertebrates.
In this overview, the lichenised fungi (lichens) are dealt with separately because of their historical, ecological and physiological distinctiveness. Throughout this chapter 'fungi' refers specifically to non-lichenised fungi.
5.1.2. Basic structures
The vegetative portion of a typical individual fungus is the mycelium, which consists of a mass of microscopic, thread-like elements (hyphae) that spread through the substrate or host. Some fungi form little or no mycelium, existing as single cells, as clusters of cells, or in a yeast stage. Spores can be produced directly by the mycelium, or by specialised structures (fruiting bodies) produced by the mycelium. Reproduction may be sexual, parasexual or asexual. A single species may produce more than one type of spore at different times and on different substrata.
Most fungi form fruiting bodies of one type or another, of various degrees of complexity. Fungi can be conveniently divided into Macrofungi and Microfungi on the basis of the size of the fruiting structures. Macrofungi are those species that form a readily visible (> 1 mm) fruiting body in or on which spores are produced. Examples of macrofungi include: agarics (mushrooms and toadstools), earthstars, puffballs, stinkhorns, bracket and shelf fungi, coral fungi, disc fungi, cup fungi and morels. In microfungi the fruiting body is not readily visible to the naked eye, and in some taxa is of very simple construction, although the symptoms of the presence of the fungus, such as leaf spots or galls, may be distinctive. Microfungi include moulds, mildews, rusts, smuts and yeasts. Most species of fungi are microfungi.
5.1.3. Ecological scope
Because fungi do not photosynthesise they must gain their nutrition from exterior sources. Fungi absorb nutrients from their substrate or host (apart from the amoeboid stage of slime moulds which may ingest food). There are three main nutritional strategies among the fungi: saprotrophism, parasitism and mutualism. Saprotrophic fungi absorb nutrients from the breakdown of dead organic matter (not part of a living host). Common substrates are sugars, cellulose, lignin, chitin and keratin; a few fungi can utilise hydrocarbons (such as kerosene), resins or suberin. Saprotrophic fungi are fundamentally important in decomposition pathways, energy flow and nutrient cycling, particularly in forest ecosystems. Parasites obtain nutrients from another living organism (plant or animal) and provide no benefit to the host organism which may ultimately be destroyed or killed. Parasites may be biotrophic or necrotrophic. Biotrophic fungi obtain nutrients from still-living cells and tissues. Necrotrophic fungi invade living hosts but first kill the host tissue before gaining nutrients from the dead tissue. Most parasites are pathogens, that is, they cause some symptom or disease in their host. Fungi involved in mutualisms gain nutrients from their host but also provide some benefits to the host. Two important types of mutualisms in which fungi are involved are mycorrhizas and mycophyllas. Mycorrhizas are mutualisms between fungi and plant roots (see below). Mycophyllas are mutualisms between endophytic fungi (those that grow inside plants) and the aerial parts of plants. The presence of endophytic fungi can increase plant growth by, for example, deterring plant predators (Lewis 1987).
In their various roles as saprotrophs, parasites (biotrophs or necrotrophs), or partners in mutualisms (mycophyllas or mycorrhizas), fungi occur in and on all parts of vascular plants – roots, leaves, wood, vascular tissue, flowers, pollen, fruit, seeds. Host range may be limited to one host species or genus, or the fungus may occur on a wide range of hosts. A large tree will be associated with hundreds of different species of fungi during its lifetime. The fungi on live plant parts are different from those on dead parts, and there is a succession of fungi on debris of different ages. Different mycorrhizal fungi are associated with plants of different ages. Fungi are associated with non-vascular as well as vascular plants, and a number of species are found growing on lichens (lichenicolous fungi). A range of fungi grow on other fungi. Yeasts are found in nectar and other plant exudates. Fungi are also found on artificial products such as canvas, carpets and building material.
Some fungi are pathogens of animals, especially insects and arthropods, and are known from groups such as moths, butterflies, beetles and flies as well as many others. They are also involved in the decomposition of animals, especially hair and feathers. Fungi grow on animal dung. Various fungi are cultivated by insects (especially ants and beetles) for food. Some macrofungi that produce subterranean fruiting bodies are an important part of the diet of native animals. Others grow only in association with rotting carcasses. Some fungi catch and consume nematodes or arthropods via specialised structures such as poison droplets or hyphal coils, and slime moulds consume bacteria. Some fungi occur in the guts of arthropods, and organisms thought by many workers to be anaerobic fungi are present in mammalian digestive tracts.
Fungi occur in all major soil types. Some grow on rocks, in rock crevices or in caves or mineshafts. They occur in fresh and salt water and among snow. Freshwater species are commonly decomposers of leaves or woody material. Some fungi are pathogens of fish and other marine and freshwater animals; some are found on algae and other marine and freshwater plants. Many fungi can be found after fire, some fruiting only at this time. Some fungi can tolerate extremes of temperature (high or low) or grow in conditions of low water availability.
Fungi are recorded from all major Australian habitats including deserts and semi-arid areas, coastal dunes, salt marshes, swamps, sclerophyll forest and woodland, grasslands, heathland (near coastal to alpine), rainforest (cool temperate and warm temperate), streams, rivers and estuaries; from sea level to the peaks of the highest mountains.
Various species of fungi (including native truffles, some mushrooms and bracket fungi) have been or are used by Aboriginal peoples in Australia for food, medicine, ornament or tinder.
In addition to the detrimental effect of plant parasitic fungi on garden plants, fungal phenomena noticed by the general public include the formation of fairy rings, bioluminescence, production of hallucinogens or toxins, and the ability of some macrofungi to push through asphalt or concrete.
It is important to emphasise that knowledge of the biology of many species of fungi is very poor. Most fungal species (95% – see section 5.1.5) are yet to be formally described and we remain in total ignorance of all aspects of their biology. For those relatively few species that have been formally described, most are known by name and a brief description only. There is little information on nutritional mode, niche specifications (including host or substrate range), spore dissemination, breeding biology, and genetic structure of populations, especially in natural ecosystems.
Many fungi form mycorrhizas (literally 'fungus-roots') – mutualistic relationships with plants in which there is exchange of nutrients between plant and fungus via a sheath of hyphae or other specialised fungal structures external or internal to plant roots. Very many plants depend upon mycorrhizas for normal, healthy growth. Mycorrhizas are involved in nutrient and water uptake, can produce plant hormones, and may confer resistance to water stress, tolerance to heavy metals and salt, and give protection against plant pathogens. In low-nutrient soils, which are prevalent in Australia, mycorrhizal fungi can enhance nutrient uptake and growth of plants, and under normal conditions most plants have low survival without mycorrhizal fungi. When nutrient conditions are altered, as for example by application of fertiliser, the benefit of mycorrhizas may decrease (Marx 1972; Warcup 1980; Harley & Smith 1983; McGee 1988; Bougher et al. 1990; Cui & Noble 1992).
The formation of mycorrhizas is very widespread among green plants. Moore (1987) found that about 80% of surveyed species of British angiosperms (representing over 50% of known species) formed mycorrhizas. Smaller samples from Australia have found that between 66% and 91% of plant species surveyed from a variety of habitats form mycorrhizas, including species in plant families such as Asteraceae, Casuarinaceae, Cupressaceae, Epacridaceae, Fabaceae, Fagaceae, Goodeniaceae, Mimosaceae, Myrtaceae, Orchidaceae, Poaceae and Rhamnaceae. Mycorrhizas are absent from only a few plant families (Warcup 1980; Reddell & Milnes 1992; McGee 1986; Bellgard 1991; Brundrett & Abbott 1991). It is reasonable to conclude that the usual situation for Australian plants is to enter into mycorrhizal relationships with fungi. In some cases, links may be formed between two species of plants via fungi forming mycorrhizas with both plants (Warcup 1985). The presence of suitable mycorrhizal fungi is important in the establishment and growth of native ground orchids (Warcup 1990b), many species of which are rare or endangered. In heterotrophic Angiosperms they may be essential, as in some Orchidaceae, Burmanniaceae etc. Mutualistic relationships are also formed between fungi and some bryophytes. Mycorrhizal fungi may be integral in the re-establishment of plant communities after fire. Most subterranean fungi consumed by native mammals are mycorrhizal (Claridge & May 1994).
5.1.5. Number of species of fungi
As a conservative estimate, Hawksworth (1991) has suggested that there are 1.5 million species of fungi worldwide, making fungi the second largest group of organisms after insects. This figure is derived from careful evaluation of available data, primarily based on the ratio of the numbers of currently known fungi to vascular plants in various regions, estimated as being 6:1. The number of vascular plants worldwide was taken conservatively as 270 000. The number of currently known fungi included those on both plant and other substrates (but not insects). If additional allowance is made for fungi on insects, a figure as high as 3 million species of fungi is possible. Hawksworth's figure of 1.5 million fungal species has been accepted by other workers as a reasonable estimate (Bull et al. 1992; Walker 1992).
For Australia, Pascoe (1990), also using a vascular plant: fungus ratio, arrived at a minimum estimate of 250 000 species of fungi. He used a ratio of fungi to vascular plants of 10:1 which was derived from analysis of various data including his own knowledge of various groups of fungi on native vascular plants, and a figure of 25 000 taxa of vascular plants (native and naturalised but excluding crop and garden plants). In determining this ratio, Pascoe (1990) primarily used data on plant parasitic fungi but also made allowance for fungi on other substrates. The number of vascular plants in Australia in the latest census is 17 590 (Hnatiuk, 1990) but it will be higher when all species are described, and 25 000 is a reasonable estimate. If the lower ratio of 6:1 of Hawksworth (1991) is used, the figure for the number of fungi is 150 000. As with the worldwide situation, this estimate does not include fungi on insects. It is simply indisputable that there is a very large number of Australian fungi, and for the moment a figure of 250 000 is accepted as a reasonable estimate of the number likely to occur in Australia.
Most orders of fungi (see Section 5.9) have already been recorded from Australia, and for some orders (e.g. Agaricales) more than 100 genera and 1000 species are already known here. A precise breakdown of numbers in each order is not feasible. Knowledge of a few orders of macrofungi is good, but the most recent monographic works for large groups are at least 25 years old and all are very outdated in their classifications. The only available work covering the whole mycoflora is Cooke's Handbook of Australia Fungi, published in 1892; this is almost useless, having no keys and a hopelessly outdated classification. Most orders (and some subdivisions) of Australian fungi have never been monographed. Fungi are to be included in the Australian Biological Resources Study program, and two introductory volumes have been published (Orchard 1996a, 1996b). Even if publication of the Fungi of Australia proceeds at a rate of one per year, it will take 500 years to finish, and will then in any case be incomplete unless the rate of description of new species is increased. Checklists of macrofungi (in the Ascomycotina and Basidiomycotina), rusts (Urediniomycetes) and smuts (Ustilaginiomycetes) are in preparation. There are lists of plant parasitic fungi for each State, in which known records on native and introduced host plants are given.
The latest comprehensive census (Brittlebank 1940) listed c. 6 000 fungi from Australia (including species on crop and garden plants). There is no up-to-date census and the necessary information is too scattered for a quick compilation to be undertaken. Pascoe (1990) gave an estimate of 12 500 species currently known and this appears a reasonable figure. Walker (1992) estimated the number of plant parasitic fungi currently known from Australia as 5 500, covering fungi on all plant groups, native and introduced, cultivated, naturalised and wild.
Hawksworth (1991) estimated that only 5% of fungal species have been formally described worldwide, and that at the current rate it will be more than 800 years before all taxa are named. Worldwide, fungi are the least known of any major group of the biota, and this situation is especially true in Australia. The number of new species described or recorded for the first time from Australia each year is currently about 200 (see 5.1.6), which is less than 0.1% of the estimated total number of species. At the current rate it will take more than 1000 years to fully catalogue the mycoflora of Australia. The rate of species description would need to be increased by more than tenfold (to 2500 per year) in order to cover all the species within the next 100 years.
5.1.6. Fungi newly recorded and described from Australia each year
Without a modern, continually updated census of Australian fungi, it is not possible to provide accurate figures for the number of taxa (species and infraspecific taxa) newly recorded or described from Australia each year.
The Index of Fungi is a worldwide compilation of all new names of fungi, issued in parts twice yearly. According to Hawksworth (1991), the number of newly described species averaged 1700 per year for the years 1986–1990 (including lichenised fungi). Extraction of data on Australian taxa is not easy because, although the country of origin is indicated for each taxon, there is no index to countries and the complete list of thousands of names must be scanned. To determine the number of taxa newly described from Australia per year, a sample of 18% of the parts of the Index of Fungi issued from 1980 to 1993 was scanned.
A total of 199 new taxa of Australian fungi was found, giving an average rate of about 45 new taxa per year. The rate increased over the period (c. 27 per year in the earlier half of the sample, and c. 66 in the later half) and the number of taxa described in the latest twelve-month period (parts for July 1992 and Jan. 1993) was 64. For the purposes of discussion, the number of new taxa described per year is rounded to 100, which allows for minor variations in taxonomic activity.
A number of the taxa newly described from Australia were on exotic hosts (mainly crop plants) and thus are probably exotic themselves and not relevant to calculations of the number of indigenous and naturalised fungi. There were, however, at least as many taxa described in association with indigenous Australian hosts (mostly Eucalyptus) but growing outside Australia. It is likely that a reasonable number of these are indigenous to Australia but yet to be collected here. Thus, the fungi on Australian hosts in exotic locations can be considered to compensate for the fungi described from exotic hosts in Australia in estimating the number of truly Australian fungi newly described each year.
For the United Kingdom, Hawksworth (1991) has estimated that 40% of new names are in fact synonyms of previously described species. This figure will be lower for Australia since the known proportion of the mycoflora is substantially smaller. In some cases, such as Amanita, none of the 62 taxa already known from Australia (from the period 1840–1993) has turned out to be a synonym, although the possibility remains. Even so, any estimate of the number of 'good' taxa described per year will err on the high rather than low side.
In addition to the taxa that are formally described first from Australia, taxa already known elsewhere are continually being recorded here. An estimate of the number of such newly recorded taxa is more difficult, but some rough comparisons in treatments that deal with a reasonable number of species indicate that it will be no higher than the number of newly described species. A generous estimate is 100 species per year (excluding those on exotic hosts that are not naturalised). The figure varies considerably from group to group. In Amanita, 14 of the 16 additions to the list of Australian taxa since 1980 have been new species, but in the Hygrophoraceae only one of the 16 additions was newly named (most of the remainder already known from New Zealand).
A generous estimate of the number of fungal taxa newly recorded or newly described from Australia per year is thus 200. Going on past trends this figure is not likely to increase without a significant increase in the number of active taxonomists.
It is obvious from this analysis that there is no slowing of the rate of description of new species. A specific example is the genus Amanita, which was comprehensively monographed for Australia by Reid (1980) who treated 46 taxa, yet a further 16 taxa have been added since, most from south-western Western Australia.
5.1.7. Number of locations of taxa
For the purposes of establishing the number of known locations of each newly described species, a sample of the new species described from Australia from 1980 onwards was assembled from readily available literature (some referred to in the Index of Fungi sample, and some from literature at hand), and comprised 139 species, somewhat biased towards macrofungi but including a selection of microfungi. For each taxon, the number of localities from which it was recorded was noted. Multiple collections from the same locality were counted as representing a single locality record. Fifty five percent of new species were based on a collection or collections from a single locality, 35% from two to four localities, and only 10% from five or more localities. Of those described from a single locality, most (64 of 77) were described from but a single collection. Care was taken to ensure that additional localities recorded in subsequent publications were noted, but the few such cases do not alter the above figures (the proportion of species known from five or more localities increased to 11%). The pattern for newly recorded fungi is likely to be similar, most species being recorded from one or few localities.
A list of all Australian species known from the type locality alone, or from relatively few localities, is in preparation (May, unpub.). Completion of this list awaits up-to-date censuses because some species, known only from the type, may turn out to have been already assigned to synonymy under widespread species. Nevertheless, more than 200 species have already been noted that are currently known only from the type locality (sometimes from more than one collection). The final figure is likely to be well over 1000 if species known from fewer than five populations are also considered.
Knowledge of distribution and abundance of the known species is poor. Distributional data have not yet been compiled for most species and distribution maps are available for no more than a handful of species. For plant parasitic fungi on introduced and native hosts, for some common saprotrophic fungi, and for a few intensively studied groups (such as macrofungi that form underground fruiting bodies), there are quite comprehensive records (supported by herbarium specimens) which, if assembled, have the potential to provide a reasonable idea of distribution and abundance. In no case have the factors that control the distribution of any species been systematically investigated. For those species known from a reasonable number of collections (at least for macrofungi), it seems that many fungi tend to have a wide distribution within Australia. The patchiness of this distribution by comparison with other widespread organisms is yet to be investigated.
The level of endemism of Australian fungi appears to be low at the generic level in a few major groups (Gasteromycetes, Hymenomycetes, Urediniomycetes). Some of this apparent low level of generic endemism will certainly be revised when generic limits, often established long ago on the basis of Northern Hemisphere material, are reconsidered on the basis of a more complete knowledge of the Australian mycoflora. Leaf-inhabiting fungi on native hosts are one group in which many genera are likely to prove peculiarly Australian. At the species level, a substantial number of pathogens and mycorrhizal fungi are likely to be endemic because they are limited to endemic hosts. Endemic species are also known in other groups. On the other hand, a significant number of species are found in neighbouring countries, or are cosmopolitan. There are not enough data on which to provide any estimate of the level of endemism at generic or specific levels.
The presence of a fungus at a site can be detected by isolating the mycelium into pure culture, or by collecting the fruiting body (of species that form them). The fungi involved in mycorrhizas can be identified by isolation into pure culture. Working with cultures is much more time-consuming than merely noting the presence of fruiting bodies in the field. A range of different isolating media is needed to pick up the various species that may be present. It is important to note that some species of fungi may be extremely difficult to isolate into culture. Even in culture, some fungi may not produce structures necessary for identification.
Macrofungi may be recorded from the fruiting bodies but these are often present for a limited period, may not appear regularly at the same time each year, and in many cases are short-lived. A single sampling will pick up only a fraction of the species present, and recording even a reasonable proportion may take repeated sampling on regular occasions throughout the year and over several years (see 5.1.11). Detailed notes must be made at the time of collection if macrofungi are to be identified later because important macroscopic characters are lost on drying.
Identification of fungi by morphology of fruiting bodies or cultures is difficult even for experts. Usually, material must be examined microscopically for accurate determination and may even require biochemical tests. Identification is made more difficult by the high proportion of undescribed taxa and the lack of monographic treatments for most groups. A single worker will not have the necessary expertise to handle all groups of fungi. Although a competent botanist may be able to identify most vascular plants encountered at a site, a thorough enumeration of even one particular group of fungi will be much more time-consuming. A single day's collections may take a week or even a month in the laboratory to identify.
In addition to the problem of determining the presence or absence of fungi, there is the matter of defining the fungal individual and providing estimates of abundance. Many vascular plants and animals exist as discrete individuals (there are of course exceptions) which can be counted or mapped. For fungi, a single genetically uniform mycelium may occupy a small (even microscopic), discrete area within its substrate, or vegetative growth over time may lead to the formation of individual mycelia of very large extent, which may even become fragmented (yet still be genetically identical).
Much attention was given in the international media to reports of a giant individual of the North American agaric (toadstool) Armillaria bulbosa, claimed to be among the most extensive and oldest living organisms. The mycelium was estimated to occupy at least 15 ha., weigh over 10 000 kg, and have been genetically stable for more than 1500 years (Smith et al. 1992). Ironically, similarly large individuals of Armillaria were already known from Australia (Kile 1983).
A scattering of fruiting bodies of macrofungi in one area may arise from such a single extensive mycelium, or, conversely, may originate from a large number of different individuals. Distribution of individuals in space may be exclusive or overlapping; the pattern also depends upon the scale. Estimation of population parameters (number and abundance of individuals) will usually need isolation of the fungus into pure culture (to pair cultures for mating types, or look for antagonism of genetically different mycelia, or use allozyme or DNA analysis). This is considerably more complicated and time-consuming than scoring plants in a quadrat, or counting animals from trapping grids.
5.1.11. How many species of fungi occur at a site?
No study has provided even a partial inventory of the fungi present at a single site in Australia, let alone comparative data for sites in different habitats. In order to get an estimate (admittedly rather rough) of the number of fungi to be expected from a single site, a variety of data have been brought together here from mycofloristic studies carried out in Eucalyptus forests at a number of different sites throughout southern Australia.
Pearce & Malajczuk (1990) recorded 78 species of stump-inhabiting fungi from seven separate sites, each of less than 10 ha., in Eucalyptus diversicolor forest in Western Australia, and incidentally observed a further 10 wood-inhabiting species; most species were Basidiomycetes. Twenty-five species of hypogeal Basidiomycetes have been found on plots within a 100 ha. site in Eucalyptus forest in Victoria by Claridge et al. (1993), who also found that productivity was as much as 181 000 fruiting bodies per ha. per month. After wildfire at a 10 ha. site in Eucalyptus forest in South Australia, Warcup (1990a) found 26 species of mycorrhizal and saprotrophic Ascomycetes. May (unpub.) has recorded as many as 174 macrofungi (predominantly mycorrhizal and saprotrophic Basidiomycetes) from sites of less than 10 ha. in Eucalyptus forest in Victoria. In E. regnans forest in Victoria, Macauley & Thrower (1966) reported 40 species of microfungi (including 20 species of Penicillium) associated with Eucalyptus leaves followed from leaf fall for a 60-week period (fungi were isolated either from the leaves or from the underlying soil). In a creek in native forests in the Australian Capital Territory, 60 species of Hyphomycetes were recorded by Thomas (pers. comm.). Samples from various sites throughout south-eastern Australia (May unpub.) suggest that in forest and woodland there are always more macrofungi at a site than there are vascular plants, and the same is undoubtedly true for microfungi.
In addition to the types of fungi enumerated above, most plants at a site will harbour some leaf-spotting fungi; other fungi will occur on insects and other animals, standing dead or living trees, and fallen timber. A high diversity of soil fungi is also to be expected. Pascoe (pers. comm. 1993), in a study of a single cultivated field using a single isolation technique, found at least 50 genera of soil-inhabiting fungi. Warcup (1957), using some different isolation techniques, recorded over 200 species of fungi from a single wheat field.
Putting all this information together, and given that all the figures are minimum estimates, it is readily conceivable that a one hectare site in Eucalyptus forest could contain as many as 1000 species of fungi. In larger areas, such as a catchment of several hundred hectares containing a variety of habitats (for example streams, rainforest, sclerophyll forest, with a mosaic of fire or disturbance histories) the potential fungal diversity becomes enormous.
Some of the studies referred to above were based on repeated visits over periods of up to several years. The number of species noted on single visits can be substantially fewer than the total recorded from a site after the completion of a study.
For macrofungi, Arnolds (1992) discussed the number of visits per year and the number of years over which a study should be made and concluded that, to record 75% of the species present, sampling should be made once a fortnight over three years, or once every two months over five years. Even with repeated visits over the year, the number of species recorded in any one year may be fewer than 10% of the species actually present at a site. From analysis of more than 150 foray records from Britain, Rayner (1979) found that of the more than 1000 species observed at least once, only 18% were seen on more than 5% of the forays, and consequently suggested that a high proportion of Basidiomycete macrofungi may produce fruiting bodies only rarely.
As an Australian example, May (unpub.) visited a 4 ha. site in Eucalyptus forest once a year over four years and in a thorough but not exhaustive search recorded all species of macrofungi for which fruiting bodies were present. The number of species observed on each visit ranged from 73 to 88, but the cumulative number of species rose to 116 after the second year, 153 after the third year and 174 after the fourth year. Thus, even from these limited data, it is apparent that no more than about half the species now known to occur on the site were encountered on any one visit. The yearly rate of increase in the species list for the site has not begun to slow and the actual number of species present could be as high as 300 or more (taking into account also the fact that only about half the collections could be identified to known species with certainty and further taxonomic study could show more species to be present among the collections already made). As many as 117 species of macrofungi have been found in single visits to other comparable sites.
Another relevant statistic from these mycofloristic studies is that the proportion of species that were identified only to genus, or to provisional or as yet undescribed taxa, was between 20% and 50%. This reflects both the number of undescribed species encountered and also the difficulty of identification to species (or the lack of available expertise to do so). For a given study, such uncertainty of classification is not necessarily a problem, as long as a given taxon (formally named or not) is consistently recognised at different sites or on different visits. Comparisons between different studies are, however, more difficult when many species are determined only to genus or are given temporary designations (such as 'sp. 1' etc.).
5.1.12. Taxonomic mycology in Australia
Particular requirements of fungal taxonomy include the absolute necessity for use of a microscope, and the frequent use of pure cultures, especially for microfungi. These have tended to discourage the involvement of amateurs in fungal taxonomy. In Australia, additional problems are the lack of up-to-date censuses and keys, and the difficulty of access to literature because few libraries contain a good range of the necessary literature. Undoubtedly the most significant problem, however, is the current paucity of expertise in the area.
Workers with an interest in the taxonomy of Australian fungi are listed in Appendix A. This list also includes workers with an interest in ecology and conservation of fungi whose research is not necessarily taxonomic. In Australia, workers with an interest in fungal taxonomy are based in universities, the CSIRO, State and Territory agencies of agriculture, primary industries and forestry, and State herbaria (see 5.1.14). Some are employed in non-mycological positions or are honorary research associates (i.e. retired or non-salaried staff), or are supported by limited-term grants.
Walker (1980) found that in Australia there were 29 workers with an interest in fungal taxonomy. When adjusted for the amount of time spent on taxonomy, this equated roughly to 15.5 full-time workers. Grgurinovic & Hyde (1993) found that in 1991 there were 32 researchers in Australia who spent at least some of their time on taxonomic mycology. Most of these (75%) spent less than half of their time on fungal taxonomy. Pascoe (1990) noted that taxonomic research in 'agriculture-orientated herbaria' is 'invariably relegated to a spare-time activity'. From the information provided by Grgurinovic & Hyde (1993), an adjusted figure roughly equivalent to 10 full-time workers can be obtained.
Pascoe (1990) noted that taxonomic activity at some herbaria 'arose because individuals, originally appointed as plant pathologists, developed an interest in fungal taxonomy and persisted (in some cases against considerable opposition) until taxonomy and herbarium curation became their accepted roles'. Non-recognition of the importance of taxonomic research has been a problem for most Australian taxonomic mycologists.
In Australia at present there is a significant under-representation of taxonomic mycologists by comparison with vascular plant taxonomists. There is approximately one vascular plant taxonomist per 200 species of vascular plants, but one fungal taxonomist per 10 000 species of fungi (Pascoe 1990; West & Nielsen 1992; Richardson & McKenzie 1992; Grgurinovic & Hyde 1993). West & Nielsen (1992) noted that 'there is an urgent need for much greater attention to be paid to the fungi of Australia'. To put another perspective on the size of the problem: it is generally accepted that a taxonomist, working full time, can research in depth about 50 species a year.
It is important to note that there is a pool of workers interested (often keenly) in fungal taxonomy, who are not employed in that field, but who work in related areas such as plant pathology, or indeed in quite unrelated areas. Such workers commonly have postgraduate training and expertise in fungal taxonomy but have been unable to find suitable employment in this field. Thus it is likely that new positions in taxonomic and ecological mycology could be filled by Australian workers, albeit relatively inexperienced. In addition, many of those experienced workers currently making contributions to taxonomic mycology in Australia would welcome the opportunity to devote more time to taxonomy.
5.1.13. Who is describing Australian fungi?
Much of the previous taxonomic work on Australian fungi has been carried out by overseas workers (May 1990), and this continues to be the pattern. An analysis of the authors of the names from the sample of 199 species derived from the Index of Fungi (analysed in 5.1.6) shows that 26% of species were described by Australian mycologists, 15% were described by Australian mycologists in collaboration with overseas mycologists, and 59% were described by overseas mycologists. The number of species described in each year by Australian workers has remained more or less static over the period 1980–1993. The increase in the number of taxa newly described each year is due predominantly to increased activity by overseas workers in recent years.
Whilst it is advantageous to draw upon the expertise of overseas workers, it is not good to rely wholly upon them at the cost of developing local expertise. Lack of local workers limits activities such as collecting, identification, teaching, supervising students, training technical staff, and publicity. For some orders of fungi there is no active worker in Australia.
5.1.14. Herbarium holdings of Australian fungi
Major holdings of fungi in Australian institutions total c. 210 000 collections (see Appendix A, where details are also given of the shortened forms used to refer to herbaria). Three herbaria (BRIP, DAR and VPRI) located in departments of agriculture or primary industries constitute the 'National Collection of Fungi', with holdings of 119 000 collections. These herbaria concentrate on plant parasitic and saprotrophic microfungi of agricultural importance, but also have substantial holdings of microfungi on native hosts, and some macrofungi. There is a specimen database for the National Collection of Fungi which at present contains data on 90 000 collections (at least a quarter of which are identified only to genus). For DAR an Act of Parliament established a Trust to protect the collections in perpetuity.
There are also significant holdings of fungi at some of the major herbaria in each State or Territory. Some are located at botanic gardens and most are associated with State or Territory conservation agencies (or at least were so originally). There are some 45 000 collections at AD, CANB+CBG, HO, MEL and PERTH. Of these institutions, only MEL has a permanent mycologist, appointed in 1994. Other State herbaria (BRI, DNA, NSW) have few or no fungal holdings.
Various research establishments in the CSIRO house 16 400 collections of fungi relevant to forestry, food research and other disciplines; but whereas there is a Division of Entomology in the CSIRO (housing the Australian National Insect Collection), there has never been a Division of Mycology. Some university departments and research institutes, in addition to maintaining herbaria for teaching purposes, house mycological herbaria. Such herbaria are usually dependent upon the presence of a mycologist on staff, and holdings may be transferred to other institutions on their retirement, as has been the case at MUCV and UWA. Holdings at herbaria in universities (ADW, MELU, UNSW) currently comprise 19 200 collections.
There is a substantial under-representation of fungi in herbarium holdings, on average fewer than one collection for every species, whereas for each vascular plant species there are on average more than 200 collections (Pascoe 1990; West & Nielsen 1992; Richardson & McKenzie 1992).
Herbarium collections are vital for any taxonomic activity and are also important resources for studies on distribution and conservation status. Collections must be actively maintained by experienced staff. At a number of herbaria with major collections of fungi there is no taxonomic mycologist on staff.
5.1.15. Culture collections
Collections of living cultures are important in the routine taxonomic study of fungi. Characters of cultures are commonly used for microfungi, and increasingly for macrofungi, and they are necessary for research on sexuality and intercompatibility. Culture collections are a repository of isolates of potential economic importance in areas such as biocontrol or the production of biologically active compounds. Some fungi are known only from cultures isolated from their natural substrate (such as soil); their fruiting bodies have never been seen in nature.
In Australia, culture collections are maintained by various institutions, most often alongside mycological herbaria. Culture collections at the herbaria of the National Collection of Fungi hold 5 600 isolates, and a further 14 000 isolates are held in culture collections at universities, various divisions of the CSIRO, at State or Territory agriculture/primary industries/forestry agencies (see Appendix A), but not at State herbaria. There are also some small culture collections of fungi of medical, veterinary, or industrial importance (Walker 1980). Culture collections must be actively maintained. Although long-term storage of some species is possible, others must be regularly subcultured. Due to lack of staff, at least one major culture collection (VPRI) does not currently accept new isolates or provide cultures.
5.1.16. Teaching taxonomic mycology
There is a neglect of teaching taxonomic mycology in tertiary institutions. Some offer no taxonomic mycology in undergraduate courses, and many others provide barely a basic overview of the subject (Grgurinovic & Hyde 1993). In most institutions, it appears that, apart from superficial treatments of fungal diversity, the mycology taught is only that of direct relevance to other disciplines such as plant pathology or medicine. At a number of institutions, recently retiring staff with expertise in fungal taxonomy or ecology have not been replaced by mycologists. In Australian tertiary institutions, there are now few mycologists with taxonomic expertise. This means that any teaching of fungal diversity must be carried out either by staff whose interest in mycology is not primarily taxonomic or by staff with no specific mycological expertise. Whilst teaching of fungal diversity (if indeed any importance is given to the subject) might be carried out satisfactorily at lower undergraduate level in these circumstances, it is imperative that experienced staff be available for higher undergraduate levels and especially for supervision of postgraduate students. Most institutions do not offer postgraduate courses in mycology – and of the ten that do, five have no staff working in the field (Grgurinovic & Hyde 1993). The few postgraduate students currently in the area are tend to be part-time and/or external, whose own interests have been the major stimulus for their studies.
5.1.17. Conservation and taxonomy
Effective conservation of Australian fungi depends upon sound taxonomic and ecological research. The science of taxonomy (or biosystematics) is concerned with the classification, naming and identification of the biota. Taxonomic studies in themselves lead to a better understanding of distribution and abundance of species-important information upon which assessments of conservation status are based. The three aspects of taxonomic research also underpin all biological sciences, especially ecology. Any type of ecological survey requires confident identification of material with the correct name. An understanding of ecology and biology allows threats to species or communities to be identified and provides information necessary for the formulation of management plans. Where many species are yet to be formally named, as is the case in Australia, taxonomic research is especially important in describing new species, and in making sense of the vast numbers of undescribed species by placing them at some level of the taxonomic hierarchy.
5.1.18. Summary of background
Put simply: fungi are everywhere in the environment and play important ecological roles; there is a very large number of species, few of which are yet recorded and at current rates it is going to take an inordinately long time to do so. Relative to the huge number of species there are not many collections of fungi in herbaria and, especially, hardly any fungal taxonomists or ecologists. This situation will not change and may worsen unless positive action is taken.
The primary reason for the conservation of fungi is that all biodiversity should be conserved.
The primary practical reason to conserve fungi is because of their ecological roles, in which they are very important because of their mode of nutrition and their position in food webs and nutrient and energy cycles.
- Saprotrophic fungi are very important in the decomposition of plants and other substrates. Saprotrophic fungi are among nature's recyclers.
- Fungi that form mycorrhizas or mycophyllas are very important as partners in mutualisms with plants.
- Pathogenic fungi. Plant and animal populations have evolved in balance with fungal pathogens. 'All plant species have some associated fungal pathogens' (Burdon 1991). Fungal pathogens should be seen not merely as agents of destruction of their hosts but for their significance in 'shaping the size and structure of individual plant populations and whole communities' (Burdon 1991). The proliferation of exotic weeds in the absence of their natural pathogens, and conversely the devastating effects on native vegetation of Phytophthora cinnamomi, a pathogen 'seemingly out of control' (Burdon 1991), are examples of what can happen when the natural balance between pathogen and host is disturbed.
- Food. Fungi are an important food source for many animals including insects, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. Many Australian mammals consume fungi (Claridge & May 1994) and for some species, notably potoroos and bettongs, fungi make up most of the diet. The fungi involved are predominantly subterranean, mycorrhizal taxa that rely on mammal consumption for dispersal. Other mammals that consume significant amounts of fungi, at least at certain times of the year, include bandicoots, possums, swamp wallabies and native rodents.
- Usefulness as human food or for food production (edible mushrooms, yeasts for vegemite, bread, wine and beer, other fungi for soy products, cheeses).
- Soil fungi. Fungi are an important part of the biota of the soil, and in addition to functions based on their mode of nutrition affect physical characteristics of the soil such as wettability and integrity of the soil crust.
- Selection of mycorrhizal fungi for forestry. In order to improve timber yields, or allow tree growth in otherwise unsuitable habitats (such as mine rehabilitation sites), specific fungi may be selected and used for inoculation of nursery stock (Trappe 1977; Kropp & Langlois 1990; Grove & Le Tacon 1993). Some exotic trees did not grow well in Australia until the introduction of suitable mycorrhizal fungi, and conversely Australian trees grown overseas may need inoculation of suitable fungi.
- Biological activity. Value in production of biologically active compounds, such as those with anti-bacterial (cephalosporin, fumigating, penicillin), anti-fungal (dendrochin, griseofulvin, sparassol), anti-protozoic (antiamoebin), anti-viral (statolon), phytotoxic (patulin) and anti-tumor (calvacin, poricin) activity. Other products of fungi with medical applications are cyclosporin, used to prevent rejection of tissue transplants, and ergotamine, used to treat migraines and in obstetrics. Fungi may be directly useful for the production of such compounds, by extraction of the product from fungal cultures, or the fungus may provide the blueprint for the design of synthetically produced compounds. Some Australian species of fungi are already known to produce antibiotics (Mathieson 1946). The Australian fungal biota is a large, mainly unexplored source of biologically active compounds.
- Industrial. Production of enzymes, vitamins, amino-acids and other biochemicals and chemicals, including vitamins, amino-acids and ethanol for fuel. Yeasts and other fungi can be readily grown in large scale fermenters.
- Biocontrol agents. There may be important roles for plant pathogens in the eradication of troublesome weeds. The fungus Colletotrichum is currently being investigated for control of the troublesome, toxic weeds Bathurst Burr and Noogoora Burr (Xanthium spp.) (Walker et al. 1991). The fungus Puccinia chondrilla has been highly successful in controlling skeleton weed in Australia. Other fungi are potentially of use in excluding pathogens of woody tissue. Fungi may also prove useful in the control of insects. A recent edition of Quantum (ABC TV 23 March 1994) reported current research by the CSIRO on control by fungi of locusts and termites.
Fungi have potential in biotechnology (as a source of genes), and as indicator organisms.
Decline of fungi may indicate pollution. Presence of fruiting bodies of mycorrhizal fungi may indicate soil health or tree productivity.
Fungal degradation of pollutants. Commercial applications include degradation of petroleum hydrocarbons, coal tars, pesticides and chlorinated solvents (Groundwater Technology 1992).
Bioaccumulation. Some fungi accumulate metals and could be used to recover metals from contaminated wastes (Gadd 1993).
Some fungi have high aesthetic appeal. Macrofungi have a wonderful diversity of form and colour, some species being spectacular. There is also much hidden beauty at the microscopic level in both macrofungi and microfungi.
The legislation relating to protection of species of fungi is no different from that for other groups. Fungi are usually included (explicitly or not) with the plants.
There appears to be but a single example of listing species of fungi on a schedule relating to conservation. In Western Australia, the macrofungi Amanita carneiphylla and A. griseibrunnea are listed on the Priority Flora List of the Department of Conservation and Land Management. Both species are listed under the conservation code 'P2'. This category is for poorly known taxa known from fewer than five populations, at least one of which is on protected land. P2 taxa are thought to require further survey work which may or may not reveal their presence at other locations.
No area has been reserved specifically for the conservation of fungi. In Victoria, a Flora and Fauna Reserve has been proposed at Lang Lang. Among the reasons given was the presence of an undescribed species of the macrofungal genus Hypocreopsis, known at present only from the site of the proposed reserve and its immediate vicinity, and the presence of several other species of macrofungi currently known from few sites in Victoria (May & Eichler 1993; Land Conservation Council 1993). The vascular plant communities of the site, however, were also considered significant, and it is not known if the reserve would have been proposed solely on the basis of the presence of the fungi. Also in Victoria, Melbourne Water, in a strategy plan for the suburban remnant bushland at Wattle Park, identified the site as significant because of the presence of the fungus Urocystis destruens (Pascoe, pers. comm.; see also Appendix C).
In the Northern Hemisphere, more than a dozen European countries now have lists of rare or endangered fungi, usually called 'Red Data Lists' (Anon. 1993). Most lists include only macrofungi. Some include more than 1000 species (e.g. for Poland, Wojewoda & Lawrynowicz 1992). These lists have been prepared from very detailed records of distribution and abundance, sometimes extending over more than 100 years, backed up by herbarium collections. Despite the extensive available data, some lists are still regarded as provisional, such as that for the United Kingdom (Ing 1992), a country where there has been intensive attention to the taxonomy and ecology of fungi for several centuries.
In all other regions, however, there appear to be no lists of rare or endangered fungi, and this is certainly the case for North America (Canada and the United States); again, countries with a much better-than-average knowledge of their mycoflora. There are some projects involving the production of databases on fungal distribution but apparently no immediate plans to produce lists of rare or endangered species.
The enormity of the task of cataloguing fungal diversity and gathering information on abundance and distribution has led to the consideration of other approaches to fungal conservation, such as the protection of sites with the greatest diversity of fungal species (Ginns 1993) and the conservation of fungal habitats that are under threat (Watling 1990). There are, however, no detailed programs anywhere in the world dealing with the practicalities of site or habitat-based approaches.
The Committee for Fungi of the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN-SSC) has a number of regional subcommittees representing major world regions. The purpose of the Committee for Fungi and its subcommittees is to provide a co-ordinating role in the conservation of fungi worldwide, to assist in the dissemination of information, to determine and review the status and needs of taxa, and to make these known to the general public in order to promote wise management of rare and endangered species. The Committee commenced publication of the Fungi and Conservation Newsletter in 1991. A regional subcommittee for Australia has been formed.
5.3.3. Collecting wild fungi
In Victoria, harvesting morels from public land has been a problem over the last few years because it is occurring in reserves (despite the fact that all flora and fauna are protected) and is also causing disturbance to other protected species of plants (such as rare orchids). Individual collectors are taking up to tens of kilograms or more of morels at a time, encouraged by high prices of $40–$100 per kg. Most are for the local market, but there are indications that some may be destined for the lucrative Northern Hemisphere wild fungi market. Until further information is available on the taxonomy, distribution, abundance and effects of harvesting of morels, it is possible that a moratorium on the collecting of morels on public land will be declared by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
In the Northern Hemisphere, collecting wild fungi for food is carried out on a large scale by individuals and on a commercial basis. The cash value of wild fungi is high. Collecting rights on private land and some public land may be auctioned each season. Where general access is allowed to fungi on public lands, fees or licences for collecting may be required. In some states of the U.S.A. there are moves to ban collecting activities in National Parks. There appears to be little regulation of the harvesting of wild fungi. There are also few scientific data on the long-term effects of various methods and levels of harvesting, both on the fungi and, for mycorrhizal species, on their plant partners.
No known species of Australian fungus appears to have become extinct. In regard to the other defined categories (Endangered, Vulnerable etc.) it is not possible to allocate any particular species to these categories on the basis of current information, a view not contradicted by any of those consulted during the preparation of this overview.
Certainly, many species are known from one or few collections (see 5.1.7), but in no case has a systematic survey been carried out to confirm the apparent rarity. These species may well be more widespread, they may turn out to be synonymous with species widespread beyond Australia, or they may be synonyms of common Australian species, but they must be considered rare until demonstrated otherwise.
The proportion of described species for which distributional information is minimal is disturbingly high, and this situation applies just as much to species described recently as to those described in the 19th Century. Of a sample of species of fungi newly described from Australia since 1980, 56% are known only from the type locality, and 90% are known from fewer than five sites (see 5.1.7). In many cases there does not seem to have been any attempt to carry out thorough surveys for the taxa over wide geographic areas or over several seasons. The taxonomy is based in most cases on whatever collections were available, and in some cases no or few herbarium collections had been searched for further collections of the new taxa. Thus, even the formal description of species may do little to advance knowledge of distribution and hence of conservation status.
Research on other plants and animals for which fungi are important (especially threatened species) may lead to improved knowledge of distribution and conservation status. An example is the hypogeal fungi consumed by the Long-footed Potoroo and other mammals. Potential use of fungi for commercial benefits, such as investigation of mycorrhizal fungi for use in large-scale hardwood plantations, may also lead to improved knowledge of the fungi. Most species of Australian fungi, however, seem likely to remain undescribed or poorly known for some time mainly because of the lack of mycologists.
Following the IUCN, Briggs & Leigh (1989) included a conservation status category 'K' for species that are 'Poorly Known', and whose conservation status 'cannot be reliably determined until more information is available about them'.
An important issue is: who is responsible for demonstrating whether or not Rare but Poorly Known species of fungi are in fact rare or endangered? Does this responsibility rest with Government authorities, or is it up to concerned members of the public and the scientific community to fund and carry out the necessary surveys? This question is important because the inclusion of species under conservation categories such as Endangered, Vulnerable or Rare can result in or even necessitate (by law) certain actions by land management agencies and others to improve or maintain conservation status, and also may lead to further resources being allocated to the study of the species. If the many fungi that are Poorly Known remain in this limbo-like category, then any threatened species among them is denied such benefits.
It is not clear how the large number of Poorly Known fungi will be dealt with when it comes to practical decisions on whether to reserve land or allow development. It is recommended that, where development or management is concerned, Poorly Known fungi be treated as Rare until demonstrated otherwise by the agency responsible for development or management.
It will no doubt become apparent that some species of fungi are indeed Endangered or Vulnerable. The conservation needs of such species should then be considered equally important as those of Endangered or Vulnerable species in other groups.
Any fungi specific to threatened habitats or forest types could themselves be considered threatened. No example comes to mind, but the fact that the habitat is threatened will likely provide sufficient reason to protect the habitat, and hence conserve the fungi.
One particular category of species that would have to be considered threatened are pathogens, saprotrophs or partners in mutualisms that are limited to a host which is itself threatened. Cross-checking host lists of fungi against lists of threatened Australian vascular plants is a large task and has not been carried out systematically, but to date cursory checking has not come up with any example of this situation.
It is clear that an approach to the conservation of the totality of Australian fungi based entirely on individual species is not appropriate for two reasons: (1) it will be a very long time before all taxa are formally described, and even to reach a reasonable proportion will take too long; and (2) once taxa have been formally described, conservation must be based on a knowledge of the distribution and ecology of each species. Such data are currently lacking for the vast majority of species and will take a long time to acquire for the remainder.
As for fungal communities, the only data available are species lists from particular sites and a few studies that have compared a limited number of sites but not attempted to delimit communities (e.g. Gardner & Malajczuk 1988; Summerell et al. 1993). In order to define communities, one would need to compare the mycoflora of a particular niche, based on sampling methods designed to register a reasonable proportion of the species present, across an extensive sample of sites, with the data analysed by methods such as two-way tables or multivariate analysis. Current information is totally inadequate to define any fungal communities with the same level of precision that is applied, for example, to vascular plant communities. Consequently, no fungal community can be designated as Endangered or Vulnerable.
Ex situ preservation can be achieved through culture collections. This should be a strategy of last resort, to be used only when a species is threatened with extinction. It is well known that cultures can lose their ability to reproduce, or that other properties initially present can be lost after a time. If ex situ preservation is necessary, there is also the need to preserve an adequate sample of the genetic diversity within a species. Relatively few of the known species of Australian fungi are represented in culture collections. Many species of fungi have not yet been isolated into pure culture, and it may in fact prove extremely difficult to do so. Even when pure culture can be isolated, effective techniques for long term maintenance may not be available.
Ignorance of fungal diversity and biology is a major threat that will contribute to the loss or decline of species. This ignorance will continue unless substantial resources are put into the study of fungal taxonomy and ecology.
5.5.1. Threatening processes affecting all biota that impact on fungi
- Loss by wholesale clearing or drastic alteration of habitats. Aside from ignorance, this is likely to be the major current threat to fungal species and communities. Examples are the conversion of native grasslands to pastures of exotic grasses or to intensive agriculture or to urban areas, clearing forests for agriculture, conversion of mixed forest (rainforest and eucalypts) to eucalypt forest, replacement of forests by plantations of exotic trees, and forests used for timber harvesting but badly managed. There will be loss of fungi dependent upon the habitat, because the hosts of pathogens and saprotrophs and the partners of mutualistic fungi may no longer be present. It is reasonable to expect that, if a particular habitat type is under threat, then some fungi of that habitat will also be under threat. Research is required urgently to identify which habitats in particular are under the most threat in terms of their fungal biota. Native grasslands, woodlands and rainforests have been suggested as habitats whose area and diversity have been particularly depleted and whose fungi are consequently under threat.
- Air pollution (sulphur dioxide, ozone, acid rain etc.) has a major effect on some fungi. In Europe, mycorrhizal fungi, in particular, have shown a marked decline thought to be due to the effect of air pollution – either by direct effect on the fungi, or by acidification of the soil, or by affecting the viability of trees with which the fungi are associated (Arnolds 1989, 1991). In Europe, saprotrophic fungi that break down leaf litter are also affected by some components of air pollution (Newsham et al. 1992). Water pollution, such as increasing salination, may contribute to the decline of aquatic fungi. The significance of threats such as air pollution (and fertilisers) can be gauged from the Red Data List of macrofungi in The Netherlands which listed 944 species (24% of the total macrofungi) of which 91 were presumed extinct (Arnolds 1989). Arnolds (1989, 1991) considered that air pollution and altered agricultural practices are major contributors to the extinction and decline of macrofungi in The Netherlands. The decline in the abundance of mycorrhizal fungi has been established from long-term monitoring at sites across Europe, and in several studies a loss of around 50% in the diversity of macrofungi has been recorded on any one visit. The situation in Europe in regard to the decline of mycorrhizal macrofungi is serious enough to have been described as a mass extinction (Jaenike 1991).
- Herbicides and pesticides affect some fungi, at least at some levels of application (Trappe et al. 1984). These chemicals may also affect the formation of mycorrhizas (Marks & Becker 1990).
- Fertilisers affect some fungi, either directly or because increased availability of nutrients to plants means that the plants may not be forming mycorrhizas with their normal fungal partners.
- Alteration to the physical or chemical properties of soils, such as salinisation, alteration to normal soil moisture, alteration to pH.
- Gross soil disturbance, as for example by mining operations. Careful management is required to ensure the survival of mycorrhizal fungi in disturbed or stored soils (Reddell & Milne 1992). Such fungi may be beneficial in the re-establishment of plant communities on disturbed sites. Soil disturbance includes processes such as soil compaction, exposure to drying and solar radiation by removal of the litter layer, and wholesale removal and stockpiling.
- Macroclimatic change. Global climate change. Cloud seeding (producing higher rainfall).
5.5.2. Threatening processes particular to fungi with the potential to affect all fungi, or at least major groups
- Loss of host. This could be loss of host for a host-specific plant pathogen or a host-specific saprotroph. The severity of such an event depends on the specificity of the fungus. Some plant pathogens are certainly host-specific, and some may rely on different hosts for different parts of their life cycle.
- Loss of partner in mutualism – either loss of mycorrhizal partner (plant becomes extinct) or loss of dispersal agent (animal becomes extinct). As with the loss of a host, the severity of these events depends on the specificity of the fungus. Mycorrhizal fungi appear to associate with hosts at the generic level or have even broader host-ranges; but the data are limited.
- Loss of substrate. Wood-rotting fungi may require dead wood of a certain age or size. Alterations to fire regimes or silvicultural practices may lessen the availability of suitable substrate. Collection of wood for firewood may also be a very important contributing factor to loss of substrate, especially in relatively undisturbed habitats near major cities. Siltation of streams may smother the substrates of aquatic fungi.
- Fire management. Some fungi are adapted to produce fruiting bodies after fire, but fire will also remove substrates such as fallen wood which may be important for other species of fungi. Fire management is currently directed towards the management of vascular flora or animals, and more information is needed with which to assess the effect of the area, intensity, timing and frequency of fire on fungi.
- Tendency towards even-aged forests. There may be a loss of some fungi from silviculturally managed even-aged forests which are on short-felling rotations and where regeneration is achieved by fire. As trees age, there is a succession of mycorrhizal fungi over periods of at least 30 years, possibly much longer. Some mycorrhizal fungi appear to occur only in long-unburnt forest with mature trees and heavy litter development (N. Bougher pers. comm.). Some wood-rotting fungi, for example those that cause heart rot of standing trees, may appear only in overmature trees which would also be absent from forests clearfelled on short rotations.
- The cross-over of exotic mycorrhizal fungi from exotic hosts (with which the fungus was originally introduced) to indigenous hosts, thus possibly displacing indigenous mycorrhizal fungi. Example: the exotic Amanita muscaria, usually associated with exotic Pinus, has now been found in association with Nothofagus in undisturbed rainforest in Tasmania (Fuhrer & Robinson 1992) and in Victoria (B. Fuhrer pers. comm.); this species occurs with Eucalyptus globulus in plantations around the world and may be capable of invading eucalypt forest in Australia (N. Bougher pers. comm.).
5.3.3. Threatening processes particular to fungi that impact on a restricted number of species
- Exotic animals such as pigs and deer that include fungi in their diets may damage populations of macrofungi, especially hypogeal fungi. Such activity may also reduce the available food for native mammals dependent upon these fungi.
- Collection for food. A number of species, both exotic and indigenous, are collected for human food. Collection of some species is at a low level, but other species are sold in markets and considerable quantities may be involved, especially of Morchella spp. (morels). Collecting wild fungi may also be damaging to other animals and plants, particularly if quantities of soil are removed as appears to be the case sometimes when collectors attempt to transplant the mycelium into gardens.
- Collection for pharmaceutical purposes. Species of Ganoderma are used in Chinese medicine and at least some material currently available in Australia appears to have been gathered locally. Species of Cordyceps (the caterpillar fungi reputed to have aided the recent record-breaking feats of Chinese women athletes) are also highly prized but do not yet appear to be gathered commercially.
- Collection for dyeing. There does not appear to be anything other than very low scale sporadic collecting of fungi for dyeing.
It has not been possible in this section to be precise as to endangered and vulnerable species because such species are not yet known.
5.6.1 Habitat-based approach
Because an approach based on individual species is not practicable (see 5.4) the habitat-based approach is an alternative strategy. If such a strategy is adopted it will be the sole measure for conserving fungi in the foreseeable future unless there are dramatic changes in the amount of resources directed towards knowledge of the taxonomy and ecology of individual species of fungi.
The habitat-based approach would aim to conserve adequately the range of habitats necessary to 'carry along' as nearly as possible all species and all communities of fungi, without information necessarily being available upon any individual species or community. Habitat is used loosely for both general habitat types such as grasslands and wetlands, and also pertains to finer scale resolution at the level of plant communities or associations.
Because fungi interact with the vascular plants and animals (through nutrient webs and mutualisms), it is to be expected that there will be congruence of some sort between the distribution of species of fungi and species of vertebrates and vascular plants, and likewise for communities. But to be of value in terms of conservation, this congruence would have to be at the scale of reserved areas. It is also important to note that the fungi of a site do not form a single community, but are better analysed in terms of fungi occupying different spatial and trophic niches – one group might be terrestrial macrofungi that form mycorrhizas, another might be saprotrophic soil microfungi, and so on.
The areas chosen for reservation of biota have usually been reserved (1) because the area has some outstanding scenic values, or (2) in terms of the biota, mostly in regard to the presence of individual species of vertebrates and vascular plants, and also in regard to the presence of particular communities of vascular plants.
For a particular habitat at the finest level of resolution used to establish reserves, reserves will consist of certain minimum area and/or a certain minimum number of discrete occurrences of the particular habitat, and similarly for all types of habitat recognised. For these reserves to be of comparable value in the conservation of fungi, all species and communities of fungi should be adequately represented.
For example, there are mycorrhizal fungi that appear to be restricted to stands of Nothofagus. If these fungi are randomly distributed throughout the area of distribution of this tree, both in terms of geographic distribution and in terms of the various habitats occupied by the tree, then, as long as the reservation of Nothofagus is adequate, it is reasonable to expect that the fungus will also be adequately conserved. For species of mycorrhizal fungi that have a very patchy distribution within the area of distribution of Nothofagus then, by chance, some of these fungal species will not be adequately reserved, even if Nothofagus is adequately reserved, and some such species will be eliminated by activities such as clearing or felling rainforest with subsequent replacement by forest lacking Nothofagus.
At the community level, there may be a mosaic of different vascular plant communities, sometimes within a relatively small area. The boundaries of the various fungal communities that occur there may not, however, coincide with the boundaries of the vascular plant communities. The fungal component may be either similar or variable over a given vascular plant community. Assuming the vascular plant communities to be adequately conserved in such a situation, the fungal communities may not necessarily be so.
The key issue here is the degree of congruence between the distribution of fungi and the distribution of individual species or communities of plants, or any other factors used to decide where reserves are to be located. There are also various levels of resolution (scales) that can be used in defining communities.
There are virtually no data upon which to compare the distribution of Australian fungi in relation to plants and plant communities, nor is there any substantial information on fungal communities. There is little evidence from anywhere in the world about the congruence of communities of fungi with vascular plants, and substantial research is needed in Australia on this aspect. Much research is obviously also needed on congruence in relation to scale and patchiness.
In relation to the management of reserves, there is no information on whether or not active management may be needed for the conservation of species or communities of fungi in Australia. Different species of fungi at a site may have different, even competing, needs in terms of management, especially in regard to fire.
Once areas are designated for the conservation of fungi (whether by existing or additional reserves), the effectiveness of the areas reserved should be monitored by recording the abundance and distribution of at least selected fungal species over time within the reserve.
5.6.2. Critical habitats
Because the conservation status of individual species is not yet established, it is not possible to designate any habitat as 'critical' for a species of fungus.
Another approach is the identification of specific localities or habitat types that have the highest fungal species diversity; the logic being that conservation of such areas will, in the absence of comprehensive knowledge of individual species, preserve at least a significant proportion of fungal species. There is absolutely no information for Australia on where such areas might be.
Some broad habitat types are already known to harbour a high diversity of macrofungi, the Nothofagus-dominated cool temperate rainforests of Victoria and Tasmania being one example. It is by no means certain, however, that such areas are in fact those of highest diversity and the apparent abundance of macrofungi may be due solely to the greater regularity of fruiting allowed by the more predictable and equable microclimate by comparison with sclerophyll forest and woodland, where more intensive sampling over long periods might be required to reveal the true number of species present.
This is an example at a relatively coarse level in terms of habitat definition. Variation in diversity within major habitat types should be investigated, rather than merely designating as high in fungal diversity a few broad habitat types such as tropical rainforest or wet sclerophyll forest.
It is obvious that a certain percentage of both species and communities of fungi are already adequately conserved without any positive action, as a result of the existing processes of reserve selection which are based heavily on vertebrates and vascular plants. The important question is: exactly what proportion of fungi is adequately reserved?
By the time that all existing species of fungi are formally described, and their distribution and ecology reasonably understood, it is likely that there will be no more choices to be made in regard to reserves. Thus the choices made in the near future have to be the right ones.
Unless much better information on the degree of congruence of fungal with vascular plant species and communities is forthcoming, it might be necessary to adopt a policy of creating more and larger reserves of each type of habitat than appear to be needed solely on the basis of vascular plants, in order to increase the likelihood that all the fungi will in fact be 'carried along'.
A habitat-based approach appears to be the only realistic option to ensure the conservation of all Australian fungi, but to be genuinely effective it must be based on sound background information and methodology. There is clearly a need for the development of criteria for reserve selection taking into account fungi, and much more data are needed upon which to base decisions (even without attempting to catalogue individual species).
It is important to note that the habitat-based approach to fungal conservation is not about the preservation of specific localities rich in species (as may be appropriate for other cryptogamic groups), but is a general concept whereby, in the absence of knowledge of most individual species, conservation is achieved by preservation of as many as possible of the whole range of habitats inhabited by fungal species and fungal communities.
5.7.1. Impediments to improved conservation
The resources currently devoted to research into the taxonomy and ecology of Australian fungi are inadequate (see 5.1.12, 5.1.13, 5.1.14). This lack of resources is the major impediment to improved conservation of Australian fungi. Education in fungal taxonomy is also inadequate (see 5.1.16).
The sheer magnitude of diversity at the species level of fungi should carry far more weight than it currently does in terms of allocation of resources to education, research and collecting. This is not merely a plea for special treatment, or for spending limitless amounts of money. There is an interaction between the poor or even non-existent image of fungi and the resources allocated to their study. More active research would give fungi a higher profile, and would lead to greater involvement by both specialists (such as ecologists with primary interest in other groups, or whole systems, who then might start to include fungi in their studies), and the general public, who can contribute much to improving the conservation status by direct action in terms of surveys and the like. Perhaps a critical point would be reached after which funding targeted at fungi in particular might no longer be necessary.
2. Difficulty of sampling
Detecting the presence or absence of species of fungi presents the most difficulties of sampling of any major group of the biota (see 5.1.10). The difficulties of sampling, identification, and defining the individual, and the sheer number of species potentially present at any one site, provide major difficulties for ecological investigations. Specific sampling methods and strategies must be developed to cope with these problems.
Fungi have a bad image. Fungi do indeed cause much damage to crop plants and also cause food spoilage, poisoning by ingestion of toxic wild mushrooms, poisoning of animals through mycotoxins in fodder, allergies and so on. In other contexts people tend to ignore or overlook fungi, and they are not valued as equal components of the biota. Common attitudes would be indifference, fear (of toxic fungi) or derision (trampling puffballs). Public perception of fungi is, however, based on very limited knowledge, and the positive side of fungi needs to be brought to light. In many cases, whilst one fungus may cause a plant some problems, another benefits that same plant. Suggested actions for improving public awareness of fungi are detailed in section 5.8.
5.7.2. Future priorities for research and management
- Fungi have long been included with plants in the organisation of biological collections (herbaria) and teaching and research (botany schools). Whilst it has to be accepted that fungi belong in a separate kingdom, this is no reason to exclude them from such institutions. Any suggestion that fungi compete with other groups for positions or funds should be avoided, and the focus should be on the benefits of more even coverage of the biota. The inclusion of fungi in the Australian Biological Resources Study program has already provided a stimulus for research in Australia and is an example of how fungi can be incorporated into projects that initially did not cater for them, or did so nominally in ignorance of how many species were involved. At the same time, much of the work done by mycologists in Australia is done in isolation from mycological colleagues, and the formation of specialised institutions and organisations might therefore be beneficial.
- Existing institutions. At the very minimum, current positions in herbaria and in teaching and research institutions must be maintained. Even to achieve this aim might need positive intervention. Recent examples are the non-replacement of several retiring taxonomic mycologists in universities and the associated discontinuation of herbarium and culture collections (several herbaria have been transferred to other institutions, but some culture collections have been lost), and the strong possibility of the closure of taxonomic mycology sections (including herbaria and culture collections) of some State or Territory agriculture agencies.
- Tertiary teaching. The decline in teaching taxonomic mycology in Australia at undergraduate and graduate levels must be halted. Additional positions in teaching institutions for workers with an interest in the taxonomy and ecology of fungi would not only increase the research output in these areas but also lead to improved coverage of fungi in courses, and encouragement of students with an interest in fungi (especially important for those considering postgraduate studies). Unless teaching in this area is strengthened, few students will be suitably qualified to pursue careers in fungal taxonomy. If the situation is not improved, special postgraduate courses in fungal taxonomy should be provided. Appropriate groups must be lobbied on these matters.
- At each herbarium of the National Collection of Fungi (BRIP, DAR, VPRI), there should be an increase from one to two positions for taxonomic mycologists, and these staff should be able to devote a reasonable proportion of their time to taxonomic research. Consideration should be given to adding further herbaria to the National Collection of Fungi. The Collection is, however, specifically for fungi of agricultural importance, and although the constituent herbaria have always carried out some research on indigenous fungi, it is unclear if there is sufficient support from the institutions that house the herbaria for the broader role that is needed for the Collection to adequately represent all groups of fungi in terms of both collections and research.
- At each major herbarium (AD, BRI, CANB+CBG, DNA, HO, MEL, NSW, PERTH), where there are currently no mycological staff, it is desirable that at least one taxonomic mycologist be employed, especially those with major holdings of fungi. It is unlikely that this aim will be achieved since some herbaria already have very few taxonomic staff, or few holdings of fungi. It is important that some mycologists be employed in each State in order to have workers 'on the spot' to handle inquiries and identifications, to advise other local bodies such as conservation agencies, and to be active locally in education and public liaison.
- National Institute of Fungal Biodiversity. Serious consideration should be given to setting up a National Institute of Fungal Biodiversity. A National Institute is necessary to cover the inevitable deficiencies at the State and Territory level, and to allow a co-ordinated approach to the huge amount of work required on fungal taxonomy. Other important roles are the creation and maintenance of taxonomic databases, censuses, host indexes, and the co-ordination of the specimen and taxonomic databases held around Australia. A single library with good coverage of all groups of fungi would be of enormous benefit. Whilst the primary focus would be taxonomic, interaction should be encouraged with other areas such as conservation, biotechnology, ecology, forest pathology and plant pathology.
The Institute could be based on one site, with or without a herbarium, but if the latter, then as part of an existing major herbarium. Alternatively, the functions of the Institute could be spread around two or three sites. Precise details on funding are beyond the scope of this overview but an initial figure of around $1–2 million per year is suggested to allow at least a reasonable coverage of different groups of fungi by the variety of techniques necessary (traditional taxonomic methods, molecular taxonomy) with adequate infrastructure (microscopes, computers, library, pure culture facilities, technical support, administration). This amount would seem to be a mere fraction of the amount currently spent per annum on the conservation of much smaller and arguably less important (but higher profile) individual species or groups (such as birds, orchids or mammals). The necessary support could be achieved through a package of funding from different Government organisations, research funding bodies, and private and business sponsorship. Although the focus of the Institute would be on improving knowledge of biodiversity and conservation of fungi, significant funding could come from projects utilising the expertise of workers at the Institute which had some component relating to other areas such as the search for biologically active compounds from fungi, biological control of plant and animal pests by fungi, and providing identification services to agriculture agencies, quarantine services and other groups. These research areas involve both indigenous and exotic fungi. A model for such an institute is the International Mycological Institute in the United Kingdom, which has strong historical links to the Herbarium of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. It is relevant that Australia may currently be providing funding to overseas institutions to carry out functions which could be handled by such a proposed institute.
- Australasian Mycological Society. Support is needed for the Australasian Mycological Society as a means of creating better links between Australian mycologists, to act as a lobby group in relation to fungal conservation, teaching mycology, and research in mycology, and to organise conferences and workshops on these various aspects.
- Working Party on Fungal Biodiversity. Due to the current fragmented approach to taxonomic mycology in Australia among institutions and personnel, it would be beneficial to set up a Working Party on Fungal Biodiversity. Such a working party should (1) review the existing institutions and personnel involved in taxonomic and ecological research on Australian fungi; (2) consider how best to increase resources in these areas; (3) consider the co-ordination of the various organisations currently engaged in taxonomic mycology, e.g. expansion of the National Collection of Fungi and establishment of a National Institute of Fungal Biodiversity; (4) ensure that there is a reasonable coverage of all major groups of microfungi and macrofungi in herbarium holdings and in research; and (5) ensure that at least some new positions are for taxonomists to work specifically on conservation aspects of fungi.
Suggested membership of a Working Party on Fungal Biodiversity is representatives from some or all of the following groups or organisations, along with, if necessary, taxonomists with experience in microfungi and macrofungi.
- - Australian Biological Resources Study
- - Australasian Mycological Society
- - Environment Australia
- - Australasian Plant Pathology Society
- - Australian Systematic Botany Society
- - Council of Heads of Australian Herbaria
- - CSIRO
- - National Collection of Fungi
- - Relevant Commonwealth ministries (Science, Environment)
- - Working Party on National Reference Collections [of Agricultural Importance]
- Support for the expansion of taxonomic mycology in Australia will be necessary from the political sphere and from the general community. The ecological importance of fungi, along with their economic and applied potential, must be recognised. A Working Party on Fungal Biodiversity may, in fact, be most effective if it is part of a general review of all aspects of mycology in Australia.
2. Research Programs
- Assessment of the congruence of fungal communities with communities defined on the basis of the vascular plants or habits based on other biotic or abiotic factors, at scales relevant to the selection of protected areas. This research is the most important for it underpins the success of the habitat-based approach to the conservation of fungi by indicating how well existing reserves conserve fungi.
- An up-to-date census of Australian fungi. Work is in progress on censuses for several groups, but a continually updated, comprehensive census is vital for any assessment of conservation status. Efforts should also be made to compile available distribution data from existing records and herbarium collections, and a list of rare species should be published.
- Development of appropriate sampling techniques. For each group of microfungi there is a need to devise standardised techniques of isolation. For macrofungi, better information is needed on the intensity of sampling necessary to discover a reasonable proportion of the species actually present at a site (how many visits? over what period?). It might be useful to develop a list of species for which identification presents no problems. Recording such species would at least enable a start to be made on defining fungal communities, although care must be taken not to oversimplify, or overlook important species of a community.
- Collecting strategy. There is a need to increase the number and representativeness of collections in herbaria by systematic collecting from different habitats. This would increase understanding of distribution and, when groups are monographed, provide a better geographical and ecological coverage. For large-scale collecting, a sorting centre may be needed for distribution of taxa to various specialists (West & Nielsen 1992). Given the difficulty of collecting and preparing fungal specimens, and the need to make detailed notes at the time of collection, it might be worthwhile to employ a roving general fungal collector who could take advantage of environmental conditions suitable for the fruiting of fungi as they occur around the country, as is already done for angiosperms by some herbaria. Such a collector would need specialised training. Large-scale isolation of cultures might also be worth considering.
Some mycologists argue against the use of general collectors on the grounds that the specialist needs to see species in the field and that it would not be possible for such a collector to compile the detailed notes required for the various groups, especially for macrofungi. Conversely, others have indicated that they find collections provided by non-specialists useful because at least they indicate the presence of a species (even if only a genus) at a particular place and time and in association with a particular host. This knowledge allows efficient planning of field work if it proves necessary for the specialist to re-collect material. These points should be further discussed among the mycological community.
- Collections lodged in herbaria are valuable not only for taxonomic purposes but also for establishing current (and historic) distribution patterns and assessing infraspecific diversity. Encouragement for lodging collections in herbaria should be given to groups such as field naturalists' clubs (which commonly have yearly fungal forays), fungal study groups, and major biological expeditions, especially those to remote or little-explored areas. Given the difficulties of collecting and preserving fungi, a guide to effective collection methods might be useful, covering all the different groups of fungi. Reference sets of different groups of fungi, specifically selected for use in identification, would be useful, as would keys to Australian species.
- Establishment of permanent plots for long-term monitoring in relation to potential threatening processes such as timber harvesting, altered fire regimes, loss of dispersers and global climate change.
- Identification of centres of endemism or areas of high biodiversity. A long-term goal not achievable until there is much better information on distribution.
- Need for baseline data on genetic diversity within individual species. The first impact of events such as the loss of a disperser might be at this level.
- Co-ordinated study of a network of sites designed to sample the total fungal biodiversity of sites in all major habitat types throughout Australia. Study of such sites would need a team of local, and if necessary overseas, workers, and would provide opportunities for training, and involvement of the public. It would require the co-operation of other plant and animal specialists in order to identify hosts.
The sites should be integrated as far as possible with any existing well-studied sites for which there is information on other biota and physical-chemical properties, rather than necessarily setting up a separate program specifically for fungi. Sites should be chosen in secure reservations with low disturbance. They would then be available for future monitoring and would provide baseline data against which changes caused by factors such as succession, global climate change, wildfire etc. could be assessed.
In addition to providing an opportunity to develop sampling procedures, useful information from such a study would include (1) a better estimate of the total number of species of Australian fungi; (2) the likely distribution of fungi among higher taxonomic groups, and what proportion of each group is as yet undescribed; (3) variation in number of species and diversity between and within different major habitat types; and (4) provide raw material (collections) for future taxonomic revisions. Comparable studies are currently being undertaken on Australian arthropods (Kitching et al. 1993).
Setting up such a project for fungi is a major enterprise. In a recent proposal to undertake a complete inventory of all the biota of a 50–100 000 ha. site in tropical rainforest (Rossman 1992), it was estimated (by leading fungal taxonomists) that the cost of collecting and identifying each species of fungus would be on average $US 500–1000, and the total cost likely to be in the order of $US 8 million.
- Encouragement should be given to the inclusion of fungi in any surveys of biota, such as pre-logging, environmental impact and other biological surveys. This encouragement must also be supported by the provision of adequate identification services. Survey results must, wherever possible, be backed up by herbarium collections.
- Whenever proposed developments or methods of management may affect species of fungi which on current knowledge are rare, these species should be given the same degree of protection afforded to any rare biota, even if the rarity is based on little knowledge. The onus should be on the managing or developing agency to demonstrate that the species is not rare, by carrying out any necessary survey work at other sites.
- In order to facilitate several of the necessary research programs outlined above, a workshop should be organised by an appropriate body within the Australian Nature Conservation Agency, bringing together workers with an interest in these questions, as well as representatives from relevant organisations. The workshop, which is immediately achievable, should discuss (1) the concept of a national network of sites for recording fungal biodiversity, and the aims and scientific format of such a network; (2) the most effective means of investigating to what extent fungi are adequately conserved by the existing reserve system; and (3) the availability and training of personnel and the likely sources of funding for these research programs.
There is a huge potential for improving public perception and knowledge of fungi. Currently most people are aware of fungi only from experience with edible macrofungi and with pathogens of garden plants, or from incidental sightings of macrofungi during bushwalking, and otherwise would probably consider fungi as a somewhat weird part of the biota.
Every one of the actions detailed below needs input by knowledgeable, experienced mycologists. They cannot be carried out by non-experts merely from information in available literature. It is important to note that whilst all these various activities are likely to be supported by mycologists, there is a limited number of workers in the field and generally they are struggling to service the demands upon their mycological expertise. Thus many of these activities will be achieved only by creating new positions, not by relying on those in existing positions.
- It would be useful to produce one or more educational kits explaining what fungi are, giving examples of their diversity and ecological importance, accompanied by good graphics. Kits should be aimed at different levels – primary and secondary schools, conservation groups, field naturalists, bushwalkers, general public. The only available educational material specifically based on Australian fungi is the Gould League volume on Fungi in their Junior Survival Series, which is aimed at children. It might be possible to include more information on fungi in material such as text books.
In any general educational or interpretative material produced by Government agencies, such as those managing National Parks, encouragement should be given to always include something about fungi in nature trail guides, leaflets, visitor centre displays and so on.
- There is a great opportunity to engage non-specialists in various activities, as is done through projects such as 'Frogwatch'. There is scope for simple, but nonetheless useful, projects such as mapping the distribution of selected fungi, or recording the appearance of fungi at a particular site across seasons and years. By concentrating upon readily recognisable species, amateurs could begin to accumulate meaningful data. Such activities could be encouraged through existing field naturalist clubs and fungal study groups, but would benefit from an overall co-ordination (perhaps through the Australasian Mycological Society). Due care should be taken in relation to collecting on reserved land and to obtaining the necessary permits.
- There is exceptionally little mention of fungi in the media, usually restricted to edible species in cookery pages or the occasional garden pest. There is a need to increase the mycological content in various mass media, including the scientific media (Science Show, Quantum), popular nature and outdoor media (Habitat, Australian Geographic, Australian Natural History, Wild etc.), and the general media (daily newspapers, television magazine shows), in all of which there is an overwhelming bias towards a few select taxa of vascular plants and vertebrates.
- Some thought should be given to creating readily recognisable images of fungi, especially in relation to microfungi. The key concept is bringing to notice the otherwise hidden nature of most microfungi. The fungal spore might profitably be used as an icon, since it is a structure more or less universal amongst fungi, but one would need to avoid confusion with pollen and with other micro-organisms. The use of scanning electron microscope images might be worthwhile.
- As museums are the static display of the living material in zoos, so too herbaria can be contrasted with botanic gardens. Whilst museums have long had large areas of public displays, most herbaria have relatively small public displays – sometimes none – apart from the live displays in associated botanic gardens. Encouragement should be given for herbaria to provide static and interactive displays of fungi, and of other, similarly neglected plants.
Ideas to explore are: an attempt to bring movement to images of fungi, through video monitors connected to a microscope; investigation of high-magnification video photography of leaves to show microfungi in their natural habitat; demonstration of decay of litter and wood by time-lapse photography; giant models; and working models, for example, of the various active spore liberation devices.
- vi) Botanic gardens should be encouraged to set up cryptogamic gardens. Spectacular displays of wood-inhabiting macrofungi can be achieved by judicious selection of rotting wood of the right stage, and inoculation with hardy species. By planting seedlings inoculated with suitable mycorrhizal fungi it is possible to produce seasonal displays of macrofungi. There is much room for experiment here. A cryptogamic garden has already been established at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, with early encouraging reports (Watling 1993), and other gardens are in the planning stage in the U.S.A.
- A fungal reserve should be set up specifically with the aim of educating people about fungi. The fungal reserve could be a site of several hundred hectares within an existing biological reserve. The area need not contain individual endangered species or communities of fungi but should be selected with the following points in mind: (1) the location should be one with a long, reasonably predictable fruiting season of macrofungi; (2) the location should be accessible to a large number of visitors (i.e. near a capital city, or at an existing popular area, such as Cradle Mountain National Park in Tasmania and Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve in the Australian Capital Territory); and (3) the proximity of appropriate facilities for workshops and conferences.
At the site interpretative aids could include: (1) permanent illustrated signs giving examples of all major fungal groups, even when the fruiting bodies are not present (the signs could be moved opportunistically as fruiting bodies appear); (2) guided walks at times of the year when particular groups are present in abundance; and (3) a visitor centre with displays [see points above relating to displays] in particular telling about the different ecological roles of fungi. The fungal reserve could also serve as a reference site for recording the total mycobiota of a site, especially if used regularly for workshops and similar gatherings. No such reserve exists worldwide, but Kendrick (1993) has recently made a proposal for a fungal reserve in North America.
This outline follows almost exactly the 7th edition of the Dictionary of the Fungi. Most workers would disagree with some or even substantial parts of this arrangement, but it is presented to give an idea of the diversity of fungi. Selected common names of groups or the diseases that they induce are provided.
Endings indicate taxonomic ranks as follows:
-mycota Division [equivalent of Phylum]
(L): indicates that some or all members of the order are lichenised.
Anamorphic (imperfect or asexual) stages, which at present cannot be placed in other subdivisions without knowledge of their teleomorph (sexual stage), are placed in the subdivision Deuteromycotina.
In the more recent classification of Walker (unpublished, pers. comm.), the Myxyomycota are transferred to the kingdom Protoctista, and the subdivision Mastigiomycotina is no longer used: its constituent classes being distributed between the kingdom Chromista (where the Hyphochytridiomycetes and Oomycetes are recognised at division level) and the Mycota (where the Chytridiomycetes are recognised at division level). Within the Mycota, the division Deuteromycotina is abandoned and replaced by 'Fungi Anamorphici'. The remaining subdivisions of the Mycota (Ascomycotina, Basidiomycotina and Zygomycotina) are also recognised at division level. In Walker's classification there is also some rearrangement of higher taxa in each division in comparison to the outline presented below.
Eumycota (true fungi)
With five subdivisions:
Ascomycotina [orders only are given]
- Arthoniales (L)
- Ascosphaerales (chalk brood of bees)
- Caliciales (L)
- Clavicipitales (vegetable caterpillars, ergot)
- Cyttariales (beech orange)
- Dothidiales (L) (sooty moulds, dark mildews)
- Elaphomycetales (hart's truffles)
- Endomycetales (brewer's yeast, baker's yeast, wine yeast)
- Erysiphales (powdery mildews)
- Graphidiales (L)
- Gyalectales (L)
- Leotiales (L) (earth tongues, kerosene fungus, creosote fungus)
- Lecanidiales (L)
- Lecanorales (L)
- Opegraphales (L)
- Ostropales (L)
- Peltigerales (L)
- Pertusariales (L)
- Pezizales (cup fungi, morels, truffles)
- Pyrenulales (L)
- Rhytismatales (needle cast)
- Sphaeriales (pink snow mould, cramp balls, dead man's fingers)
- Taphrinales (leaf curl)
- Teloschistales (L)
- Verrucariales (L)
- Auriculariales (Jew's ear)
- Septobasidiales (felt fungi)
- Tremellales (jelly fungi)
- Agaricales (mushrooms, toadstools, magic mushroom, ghost fungus)
- Aphyllophorales (spine fungi, bracket fungi, beefsteak fungus, coral fungi, polypores, thelephores, shelf fungi, split gill, punk, native bread)
- Boletales (boletes, cep)
- Cantharellales (chanterelle)
- Gautieriales (false truffles)
- Hymenogastrales (false truffles)
- Lycoperdales (puff-balls, earth stars)
- Melanogastrales (red truffle)
- Nidulariales (bird's nest fungi)
- Phallales (basket fungi, starfish fungus, stinkhorns)
- Podaxales (desert coprinus)
- Sclerodermatales (earth balls, horse-dropping fungus)
- Tulostomatales (stalked puff-balls)
- Urediniomycetes (rusts)
- Ustilaginiomycetes (smuts)
- Ustilaginales (bunt)
- Hyphomycetes (black moulds, blue moulds, green moulds, anther mould, grey mould, black yeasts, food yeast, white moulds, bread mould, plaster mould, dermatophytes, ringworm, tinea)
- Peronosporales (downy mildews, false mildews, potato blight, cinnamon fungus)
- Saprolegniales (water moulds)
- Mucorales (pin moulds, bread moulds, Chinese yeast)
Myxomycota (slime moulds)
- Acrasiomycetes (cellular slime moulds)
- Dictyosteliomycetes (cellular slime moulds)
- Myxomycetes (true slime moulds)
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