A conservation overview of Australian non-marine lichens, bryophytes, algae and fungi
G.A.M. Scott, T.J. Entwisle, T.W. May & G.N. Stevens
Environment Australia, May 1997
ISBN 0 6422 1399 2
The species identified below are of particular interest from a visual or other perspective, and are recommended as species to include in the development of public education materials for cryptogams.
Xanthoparmelia nebulosa and Xanthoparmelia xanthofarinosa
These two yellow-green foliose lichens grow on sandstone and porphyry rock in the Canberra region. Because of their decorative nature, the rocks bearing these lichens are popular with landscape gardening firms, and many are removed from their natural habitat to suburban gardens. Lichens are very susceptible to changes in their microclimate and many so transplanted die, hence the beauty of lichen-covered rocks ('mossy rocks') is often short-lived. Excessive, uncontrolled removal of these species threatens their existence.
Roccella species are well known in the northern hemisphere for their dyeing properties. In Australia, R. montagnei has been found only in the Gladstone area of Queensland, where it grows on mangroves. The species contains roccellic acid, lecanoric acid, montagrol and erythrin, substances that can be extracted and digested in basic solution to produce a beautiful purple dye. Over-collection of the species by wool dyers could eliminate the population, but industrial development in the Gladstone area may be a greater threat to this endangered species. A related species (Roccella belangeriana) grows on mangroves along the northern coastline of Australia, but these areas are more remote and consequently not threatened to the same extent.
This eye-catching, pale green, pendulous lichen grows to 100 cm long. It hangs from the canopy branches and tree trunks in moist eucalypt forest and on trees abutting rainforest. Although it grows in many locations along the Eastern Highlands of Queensland, it cannot survive forest fires and its habitat is generally fire-prone. Fire policies should take this lichen into consideration when burning-off programs are formulated.
This soil-inhabiting species is picturesque. It resembles large colonies of coral, forming clumps to 15 cm high and 75 cm wide. In South Australia, it commonly grows over calcareous sand along the coast of the Fleurieu Peninsula, an area subject to significant population pressures. Known localities include (1) the Aldinga Scrub Conservation Park where it is threatened by trampling, collection and fire; (2) Onkaparinga Gorge, a very fire-prone locality; (3) outer suburban Adelaide where development and agriculture are encroaching on the habitat. The species also occurs in several locations in Western Australia and these areas are equally vulnerable for similar reasons.
This bright orange to lemon-orange fruticose lichen forms pendulous colonies up to 10 cm long, and occurs on mangroves along the Queensland coastline and on trees in the coastal ranges. It is particularly sensitive to air pollution and is therefore a good indicator of air quality. Its slow disappearance from greater Brisbane indicates deteriorating air quality in the area. Any population of this lichen occurring near an industrial city, e.g. Gladstone, is threatened.
All of these are, on current knowledge, endemic in Australia. No bryophytes are spectacular as individual plants and none of the largest and most conspicuous bryophytes is endangered. There are, therefore, no obvious candidates for Flagship Taxa, but the following are possibilities. Most of them have never been seen in the field by more than one or a very few botanists. They have been chosen partly to give a spread across the continent.
The glistening golden-green plates of this very pretty thallose species, c. 0.5–1 cm across, have an almost iridescent lustre accentuated by the darkness of the habitat. It seems to be confined to the floor of a single small cleft in south-facing cliffs of the Napier Range in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The gully is clearly a stream in the wet season and is heavily shaded by the rock walls and by Ficus trees. The species is not yet certain, but the genus is also found in Africa and India, i.e. the adjacent plates of Gondwana. None of the nearby gullies appears to contain the plant. It dies off in late spring so is presumably annual, re-growing from spores at the end of each wet season, making its survival exceedingly precarious. Fires in the grassland which comes right to the mouth of the gully, is a major hazard, in particular its effect on the the shade-giving trees,. Natural flooding, too, could eliminate the colony.
This small crinkly-leaved, lettuce-like liverwort, about 1 cm across, grows on firm soils, damp in spring, on the edges of farm roads in open agricultural land, north of Perth, Western Australia. Species in this genus are almost exclusively identifiable by the pattern of surface sculpturing of the spores, without which a dozen or two species are virtually indistinguishable. It could therefore be much commoner than its present known restriction to two localities suggests – no exhaustive search has been made in the area at the right time of year. It is endangered by the normal processes of road maintenance, e.g. shoulder grading. This, together with its small size and great difficulty of identification, presents particular problems for conservation.
Two species of this genus are known from Australia. Neither has been found, so far, outside Victoria, but both are likely to be more widespread as they do not occur in regions of high biodiversity or endemism. They form colonies of translucent, twisted thalli, rather like tiny tortellini pasta, up to 20 mm high, on salt lake mud (R. halophila) or freshwater swamp mud (R. spiculata). The former species seems to have disappeared from the coastal salt flats at Point Lonsdale where it was first discovered, and the colony at Pink Lake, Dimboola, died out when the water level rose and flooded it in 1977. The latter species seems to have died out with drying of the habitat. Both, on current evidence, appear to be extinct in their original habitats and the challenge is to locate further colonies in similar habitats. The existence of these is likely.
Discovered in recent years by Dr Ilma Stone, this uncommon Queensland moss is one of the most unusual of recent discoveries. It is one of a very small number of mosses in the world in which most of the plant consists of an alga-like protonema (juvenile stage) like a miniature green fleece (Viridi-vellus in Latin) on the ground. Although rare, it has been found at several localities and is probably present at several more, but without experience is not easily seen. It is at risk predominantly from habitat loss or change, bushfires, and drought.
This extraordinary Sphagnum lacks the normal side branches that distinguish the other species, and even the characteristic leaf structure of the genus is not well developed. It forms small erect stems (to 2 cm high), light brown or whitish, and grows almost buried in moist, nutrient-poor quartzite sand, surrounded by boggy sedgelands in south-western Tasmania. Because of its remarkable bryological interest and the fact that it is known only from the type locality, its exact location is being kept confidential. It is clearly vulnerable to fires, changes in drainage, eutrophication, or any kind of alteration to or development of its very specialised habitat.
This recently described pale greenish-white moss, with leaves in three ranks, is apparently confined to the branches of trees on the summits of Mt Bellenden Ker, Mt Lewis, and Thornton Peak, Queensland, all localities where many other rare bryophytes are found. The canopy of trees in the 'elfin forest' there is dying and opening up in places and the plant is very vulnerable to bush fires, a change in the cloud/mist climate that protects it, to increases of tourism and (in the case of Bellenden Ker) to further development of the buildings and chairlift on the summit.
Further possibilities for flagship taxa are:
A monotypic genus known from one small population on Mt Wellington, Tasmania, but not seen for some years despite some searching. It is a small thallose liverwort of unusual structure, about which little is known. On present evidence it must be on the verge of extinction.
This is known only from the Bunya Mountains Natl Park, Queensland, confined to the canopy branches of open eucalypt forest, and hence highly susceptible to unsuitable burning regimes and other forms of forest management.
This is confined to the top of a single rock stack in a Queensland National Park. It is one of the most remarkable discoveries of recent years, with a thallose protonema (juvenile stage), but is visible only when there have been good winter rains.
This is a Western Australian enigma, not known with capsules so the genus is only conjectural. It is a rare example of a moss endemic in Western Australia and is confined to the edge of granite outcrops at Two Peoples Bay. Again, it is threatened most by changes to the moisture regime by clearance, drought and bush fires.
Psilosiphon scoparium (Water Besom)
This distinctive plant, forming dense clumps of rigid, olive-green to black cylindrical tubes to 3 cm long and 1 mm across, has a curiously disjunct distribution. It is known from Barren Grounds Nature Reserve near Robertson in New South Wales and from two streams in the wilds of south-western Tasmania. It is a relatively large, very distinctive alga that would not have been overlooked in the fairly extensive algal surveying along the east coast mountains. The genus is endemic in Australia and belongs to a family otherwise restricted to the northern hemisphere. It may hold exciting information about the ancient history of our aquatic flora. Management would require a better understanding of its distribution in Tasmania and further surveying in isolated localities in mainland Australia. Its ecological requirements and life history are currently unknown but would help to explain why this apparently relic alga flourishes in a few sites but is apparently absent elsewhere.
Batrachospermum diatyches (Unfortunate Horse-hair)
Most members of this genus frequent fast-flowing mountain streams, but Batrachospermum diatyches appears to be restricted to mountain lakes. It was discovered in Lake Pedder, Tasmania, in 1966, but not described as a new species until 1992. The species name alludes to the flooding of Lake Pedder and the death of the phycologist who first recognised its uniqueness (two unfortunate events in 1972). The Lake Pedder habitat (the sandy beach) was lost with the hydroelectric dam and we do not know if the alga has survived in the lake. Two other sites are now known, both mountain lakes in Tasmania. Its habitat is generally well-preserved (in World Heritage area and national parks) except for the unknown effects of dams. Adequate management would require the maintenance of pristine catchments and a survey of lakes (including the expanded Lake Pedder) to assess its true abundance.
Chrysonephele palustris (Golden Cloud)
The golden cumulous colonies of this alga are known from only one swamp in the world-the subsequently named ''Golden Cloud Swamp' in central Tasmania near Lake St Clair. It is ephemeral and sporadic in appearance and the authors of this endemic genus note that 'it could easily have been missed in other favourable habitats which are seldom visited'. Nevertheless, extensive collecting throughout Tasmania by Dr Peter Tyler (now at Deakin University, Warrnambool) has not extended its distribution beyond this one swamp. It its life history is largely unknown and further sampling to search for new localities and/or life-stages would be the first step towards adequately managing this curious alga.
Celoniella aff. (Kosciusko Cloud)
Yellow-brown, soft, cumulous or cylindrical masses are attached to rocks in a few streams near the summit of Mt Kosciusko. It resembles a genus known from Europe but as yet it has not been adequately studied. Once lifted from the water the cells collapse if not kept very cold. It seems to require very cold water and retracts up streams (presumably dying back in the lower reaches) in summer. There would be no other suitable habitat in mainland Australia and it has not been found in Tasmania. It is in urgent need of documentation. This alga should be studied in culture to clarify its identity. Ecological work is needed to test the hypothesis that it cannot tolerate anything but the coldest of stream waters.
Ptilothamnium umbracolens (Zig-zag Cushion)
In Queensland's Lamington National Park, at the bottom of a dark rainforest gully, on a rock in one of the most heavily shaded pools dwells an intriguing freshwater red alga. Its distinctive zig-zag filaments form tiny (up to 7 mm across) dark purple-brown cushions on shallowly submerged boulders. Dr Alan B. Cribb (at that time in the Department of Botany, University of Queensland) discovered the alga in 1964, publishing his discovery as a new species and genus in the following year. The plant has been subsequently transferred to a mainly marine genus, species of which very rarely turn up in fresh water. Ptilothamnium umbracolens is known only from the single 1964 collection. In a visit to the site in 1993, Tim Entwisle failed to find the alga but because of its size and colour, and the perennially gloomy habitat, it could be easily overlooked. Collecting along the east coast mountains has thus far failed to find any further site. The correct taxonomic placement of the alga is currently unknown. Sexual reproduction is unknown and limited material is available for study.
Although originally described from New South Wales, it is unlikely that any of the original habitat remains. It has been recently discovered in Tasmania, where rare, on Clarke Island in Bass Strait, and in a few coastal lagoons near Peterborough, Victoria. The only other freshwater species in the genus is common in a few west coast lagoons in Tasmania. Taken together, the two species of Prorocentrum are potentially of great scientific interest in relation to the theory of the endosymbiotic origins of chloroplasts. Although the cells containing the chloroplasts are undoubtedly of the same genus, one species has pyrenoids (specialised starch storage bodies) but the other does not.
An inhabitant of low-saline coastal lagoons and acidic, poorly oxygenated freshwater lakes in Tasmania. It is part of a largely endemic and intriguing algal community (including Prorocentrum species and Dinobryon unguentariforme). This alga is most closely related to a sand-dwelling, marine genus and thus epitomises the uniqueness and at times bewildering non-marine algal flora of Australia.
This extremely attractive desmid has great historic importance, being named after the enthusiastic amateur collector Alfred Hardy and named by 'doyen English freshwater phycologist' G. S. West. It is often used as an emblem for Australian freshwater algae, being endemic as well as beautiful.
This uncommon, attractive flagellate was discovered in 1915, in lagoons near Lismore, New South Wales. George Playfair found and described T. volvocina, then kept some alive in a jar for some time to try and decipher its life history. It was next found in 1985, this time in western Tasmania. Improved microscopy allowed its structure to be clarified, showing that a halo that Playfair described consisted of many siliceous scales. In 1991, its taxonomic position was revealed by ultrastructural work, highlighting its uniqueness (it is almost distinct at class level). Since 1985 it has been collected from Victoria and New South Wales: a disjunct distribution including a wide ecological tolerance.
It is not possible to select taxa that are known to be endangered or vulnerable, so taxa have been chosen to exemplify the diversity of structure, function and ecological role of fungi.
This is a most striking species, found in New Zealand, Tasmania and Victoria – an example of typical Gondwanan distribution. It is nowhere common but is presumed to be mycorrhizal with Eucalyptus and Nothofagus. The chemicals responsible for the vivid colour of the fruiting body have been analysed and found to be quite novel, but of similar construction to some antibiotics, and other species in the genus produce compounds with high antibiotic activity.
P. australe was discovered only recently and was formally described in 1984. It is an evolutionary link between the agaric genus Laccaria and the gasteroid (puffball-like) Hydnangium, both of which are mycorrhizal and of potential importance in forestry. P. australe is also presumed to be mycorrhizal. Fruiting bodies grow partially buried in soil or hidden beneath the litter layer. This species, and a whole suite of similar hypogeal fungi, are consumed by native mammals including the rare, Long-footed Potoroo.
Another recently discovered species (formally described in 1987), this unusual microfungus is the sole member of its genus. A sparse mycelium grows among the leaf hairs on the underside of banksia leaves. Spores are produced asexually in clusters at the end of protruding specialised hyphae about half a millimetre long (the generic name means 'dainty little ball'). As in most fungi, the spores are very small, about 3/1000 of a millimetre in diameter. Microhabitats such as that inhabited by Tryssglobulus may harbour a huge diversity of as yet undescribed fungi. Many important antibiotics were first isolated from fungi (penicillin for example), and this wealth of biodiversity is almost completely unexplored.
The smut fungus U. destruens was described in 1910 from a specimen collected in the Melbourne suburb of Armadale. The host was the lily Wurmbea dioica which has most likely disappeared from the type locality, although it is widespread outside Melbourne. In 1991, a single specimen of the fungus was collected from Wattle Park (Melbourne). Despite thorough searching at this time and on other occasions, no further occurrence was found. The fungus must be relatively rare because the symptom is quite striking. If the fungus was originally confined to a small area of suburban Melbourne it could well be almost extinct due to loss of suitable habitat for the host. Further surveys throughout the range of the host are required to establish the conservation status of U. destruens.
Poster of fungal spores
It is suggested that, as a supplement to the flagship taxa, a poster of fungal spores be produced. Such a poster could illustrate at least 100 (perhaps even 1000!) spores of different species of Australian fungi, for the purpose of exemplifying the huge diversity in the group. Brief notes could relate different shapes of spores to their ecology (thick-walled fungi that grow on dung and can resist passing through herbivores, marine or freshwater fungi with branched spores that are carried in foam etc. etc.).