Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Fungi infiltrate Landcare – a few Landcarers' impressions

by Alison Pouliot

            Fistulina hepatica. Image: Alison Pouliot            

Next year Landcare Australia celebrates its 30th birthday. Since the first Landcare group was founded by farmers near St Arnaud in Victoria in 1986, over 4000 Landcare groups have sprung up across the country. The concept has also caught on in over 20 other countries. During that time Landcarers have addressed various land degradation issues by fencing off waterways, eradicating weeds and feral animals, creating windbreaks for livestock protection, controlling erosion and planting hundreds of thousands of trees.

The Landcare website states 'Landcare is a grassroots movement that harnesses individuals and groups to protect, restore and sustainably manage Australia’s natural environment and its productivity...The keystones of Landcare are that it is community owned and driven, it is bi-partisan in nature, it encourages integrated management of environmental assets with productive farmland and a more sustainable approach to private land management'. Landcare is a great success story. However, despite the enormous efforts of Landcare to restore ecosystems, something is conspicuously missing from concepts of biodiversity. Fungi. A foray back through the history of Landcare reveals that fungi have been almost totally overlooked in efforts to understand ecosystem function and in the restoration of landscapes. That is, until now. It seems that things are gradually changing and fungi are slowly creeping into the Landcare paradigm.

This autumn, over 200 Landcarers participated in a series of fungal ecology workshops and forays across Victoria and NSW. Participants were keen to understand the role of fungi in maintaining soils and their relationships with plants. In particular, they were interested in understanding the ways in which they could actively incorporate fungi into their land restoration projects. Landcare members were especially interested in the Aboriginal use of the beefsteak fungus (see Fistulina hepatica above).

           Cordyceps robertsii. Image: Alison Pouliot         

At a workshop held in Stanley in northern Victoria, Regional Landcare Facilitator from the North East Catchment Management Authority, Kelly Behrens explained 'We want to expand people’s knowledge of the ecological importance of fungi, so they are better equipped to manage their properties in a more sustainable way that considers the complexity of ecosystems'. Workshop participants included farmers, horticulturalists, arborists, Landcarers and others who came from far and wide to learn about the significance of fungi in forest, woodland and agricultural ecosystems. Despite the dry start to autumn, various fungi were found on the field trip through Blue Gum Gully and Stanley Recreation Reserve. The old eucalypts around the oval sported various bracket fungi including the curry punk, Piptoporus australiensis and the beefsteak fungus Fistulina hepatica. The vermillion coloured scarlet bracket Pycnoporus coccineus was found on fallen wood. Several large Phlebopus marginatus and Phylloporus clelandii were also found among the eucalypts. Richard Ahearn from Albury Environmental Crown Lands commented, 'The workshop provided valuable understanding of the role of fungi in the natural environment. In my role as a Natural Resource Manager responsible for both the restoration and maintenance of habitat for threatened species in the Albury area, I will now look for opportunities to enhance habitat for fungi around valuable old trees as well for new plantings of trees and shrubs. The workshop opened my mind to a whole new field in environmental management.'

Following a well-attended fungus field day at Lankey's Creek last autumn, Kylie Durant from Holbrook Landcare organised two further fungal ecology workshops this autumn at Tumbarumba and Mullengandra, NSW. Participants viewed and handled various fungus specimens and learnt the basics of identifying fungi in the field. Participants were especially interested in various Cordyceps species including Cordyceps gunnii, C. robertsii and C. hawkesii.

Despite the dry conditions at Mullengandra, Landcare members
keenly spotted various wood-decay fungi. Image: Kylie Durant.

At the Mullengandra workshop, Stephanie Jakovic recalled collecting fungi in her homeland of Slovenia commenting that 'Collecting fungi is one way of getting back to nature. It includes walking through the forest and being in touch with nature.' This sentiment was shared by many and despite finding only a few fungi, all enjoyed the wander through the woodland thinking about and discussing the importance of fungi to ecosystem function. Sam Niedra from the Nature Conservation Trust of NSW said 'The workshop made me better appreciate the diversity of fungi and their ecological function, and made me realise how little attention I’d been paying to them.'  Despite the dry conditions at Mullengandra, Landcare members keenly spotted various wood-decay fungi including Pycnoporus coccineus, Trametes versicolor, Piptoporus australiensis and Schizophyllum commune.

Identifying Suillus granulatus in the Wagga Wagga Botanical  Gardens.
Image: Kimberley Beattie
Further north, landcarers at a workshop in Crowther organised by Young district Landcare and Mid Lachlan Landcare were keen to understand fungi in the context of their squirrel glider conservation project. Penny Gibson from Young district Landcare commented, 'It was the great variety of fungi that we have seen here over the last nearly three decades that prompted me to enrol in the Fungi Workshop. What I learned both shocked and thrilled me. What I heard about the beneficial role that fungi play in the overall health and vitality of the natural world may only be a tip of the iceberg'.

Favolaschia calocera - Orange Ping-pong Bats
This exotic species was recorded for the first time in the
 Otways on the recent Southern Otways Landcare foray.
Image: Alison Pouliot

The dryness didn't deter forayers attending a workshop run by Murrumbidgee Landcare at Bowning, NSW. Landcarer, Kathryn McGuirk said 'I often see white fungi branches when I hand dig a hole when planting a new tree - when I see this in the future I know that I am putting my new tree in a good growing environment'. Leslie Instone commented, 'I was particularly fascinated by the way fungus makes complex relations with trees, algae as well as humans and other animals, and the many beautiful and interesting forms it takes. The emphasis on the importance of fungi for biodiversity made me think about the hidden worlds just below the surface, and the importance of small things.'

Murrumbidgee Landcarers who participated in a foray in the Wagga Wagga Botanic Gardens were excited to discover several specimens of Aseroe rubra growing among the woodchips. The Gardens presented a variety of native and exotic fungi including the introduced species Suillus granulatus and Leccinum scabrum. Sue Chittick-Dalton from the Murrumbidgee Field Naturalists said 'The workshop opened up a brand new world in my life. Being a bird watcher, my eyes have always been ‘upwards’, but the amazing new world will necessitate a change of head-axis. I had no idea of the network beneath our feet and the symbiotic nature of the plant...'.

For the seventh consecutive year Southern Otways Landcare ran a foray and survey, organised by coordinator Libby Riches. Despite having to wrangle two weddings, which descended on our field site at Paradise (but whose guests quickly got shy of the torrential rain) over 40 species were recorded including a first record for the introduced species, Favolaschia calocera. Other Fungimap target species recorded included: Cortinarius persplendidus, Cortinarius austrovenetus, Ascorcoryne sarcoides, Plectania campylospora, Cordyceps gunnii, C. hawkesii, Pseudohydnum gelatinosum, Tremella mesenterica group, T. fuciformis, Macrotyphula juncea, Stereum ostrea, Mycoacia subceracea, Hericium coralloides, Podoserpula pusio, Omphalotus nidiformis, Mycena interrupta, M. nargan and Marasmius elegans.

Cortinarius austrovenetus. Image: Alison Pouliot
Cortinarius persplendidus. Image: Alison Pouliot

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