Category Archives: News

A letter from the UK – State of the World’s Fungi

Although primarily in the UK to visit family and friends, I was delighted to find that a symposium was being held on fungi on 13th and 14th September while we were in the London area. Moreover, it was to be at Kew where I had spent many happy days in my youth amongst its strange, beautiful and amazing plants. A previous Kew project in 2016 (updated in 2017) to report on the ‘State of the World’s Plants’ had been hugely successful and it had been decided that it was timely to consider the fungi.

At the September meeting this year the report ‘State of the World’s Fungi’ was launched. It covers fungal diversity, the fungal tree of life, new discoveries, useful fungi, plant-fungal interactions, fungal genomes, fungal conservation, threats posed by fungal pathogens and climate change. Over 260 people attended the symposium, not only mycologists but botanists, plant breeders and plant pathologists, industrial chemists, those working in bioinformatics and systematics, conservationists, lichenologists, growers of fungi – anyone with a serious interest in fungi. The main aim was to review the current state of knowledge of all aspects of fungi.

Entoloma ravinense, a fungus from Kangaroo Island, described by Pam Catcheside and colleagues in 2016

There were seven sessions: conservation of fungi; plant-fungi interdependence; importance of lichens; threats and benefits of fungi to ecosystems; fungal networking; commercial value of fungi; discussion of ‘dark taxa’, i.e. those with only a molecular signature. Sixty-seven posters complemented the talks. See the programme and Conference Booklet (31mb PDF) for details and full abstracts.

Two species of fungi collected during a field survey in Kangaroo Island. Photo: D. Catcheside.

The whole conference ran like clockwork, starting with a rationale for the symposium and report and an overview of current knowledge of fungi and given by Professor Kathy Willis, Director of Science at  the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. With an approximate number of 3 million species, knowledge of what fungal species there are is relatively scant, with only 144,000 or 5% named. With respect to conservation status, only 56 fungi are on the IUCN Red List, compared with 25,452 plants and 68,054 animals.

The symposium was by no means doom and gloom though. The estimated 350 species of edible fungi are worth approximately US$42 billion each year. The medical benefits of fungi are inestimable from their use as antibiotics such as penicillin, cholesterol-reducing statins such as lovastatin produced from Aspergillus terreus and the immunosuppressant drug cyclosporine which has made organ transplant possible and is produced from Tolypocladium inflatum. Fungi are also being used to make biofuels, in washing detergents, cotton processing, bioremediation and of course yeasts which underpin the baking, wine and beer industries. I was intrigued to learn that fungi are being used to make leather shoes, easily biodegradable when the user is tired of them. I also had not realised that Lego is made using itaconic acid derived from a species of Aspergillus.

Cortinarius austrovenetus, a species native to the Southern Lofty Region. Photo: D. Catcheside.

Especially exciting is that whole genomes have been sequenced for more than 1500 species, more than the number sequenced for plant and animal species combined. Knowledge of the genes and metabolic pathways is helping the design of effective therapies against pathogenic fungi. Genome sequencing of mycorrhizal fungi is providing insights into how to manage ecosystems more effectively and to deal with problems facing humanity such as climate change.

Cyanthus olla, the birds nest fungus. Photo: B. Baldock.

If I had my fungal time over again I would work with fungal endophytes. These live within plant root, stem and leaf tissue and it is thought that they occur in all plants. Though some may be harmful, many confer advantages to their host such as resistance to stresses such as drought, heat, salinity and pests. Trials have been conducted with a seed treatment containing fungal endophytes with a view to improving crop production and mitigating the effects of climate change.

The poster session was introduced by each of the 67 presenters explaining their poster in 45 seconds. The whole ‘performance’ was accomplished most impressively in one hour!

A copy of the full ‘State of the World’s Fungi’ report can be downloaded from the website. You can also listen to an interview with Dr Tom May, senior mycologist at the National Herbarium of Victoria, discussing the report with Phillip Adams on ABC’s Late Night Live program.

Contributed by Hon. Research Associate Pam Catcheside.

Darrell Nairn Kraehenbuehl 21.1.1934 – 2.8.2018

Darrell at State Herbarium vaults obtaining records to assess regional conservation status. Photo: P.J.Lang.

Darrell Kraehenbuehl, a botanist, historian and naturalist who had a long association with the State Herbarium of South Australia, died earlier this month.

Darrell first became involved as a plant collector in 1957 soon after the establishment of the State Herbarium, and over the ensuing years contributed over 7000 collections. He also wrote the botanical history section prefacing the 1986 edition of the Flora of South Australia (Kraehenbuehl 1986), as well as a number of stand-alone papers on notable South Australian botanists.

At age 19 Darrell became a foundation member of the Nature Conservation Society of South Australia. He was also an active member and one-time president of the Field Naturalists Society of South Australia. Darrell drew on his detailed knowledge of the flora to help secure the conservation of many areas now protected as National Parks and Wildlife Reserves.

In the 1980s and 90s he worked in the Native Vegetation Management Branch of the then Department of Environment and Planning where he pioneered assessments of plant conservation status within specific regions, a crucial tool in assessing vegetation clearance applications.

He was also influential as a popular speaker, sharing his knowledge of the State’s flora and remnant native vegetation with numerous local groups and schools.

Left: Darrell taking field notes in scrub at Desert Camp (now Conservation Park). Right: with Crinum flaccidum at Murtho Native Forest Reserve. Photos: P.J.Lang.

Darrell’s early interest in the flora of the Adelaide plains began as diversions into remnant patches whilst on delivery runs in a scrap-metal business with his stepfather. It culminated in the publication of his definitive and highly acclaimed book documenting the pre-European vegetation of the Adelaide Plains (Kraehenbuehl 1996).

In 1998 Pultenaea kraehenbuehlii, a bush-pea endemic to the Tothill Ranges, was named in honour of Darrell and in recognition of his botanical exploration of that area (see also original description of the species in the Journal of the Adelaide Botanic Gardens; 776kb PDF).

Pultenaea kraehenbuehlii photographed by Darrell in the Tothill Ranges, Northern Lofty Region.

A more detailed account of Darrell is available here from a speech by State Herbarium honorary associate Bill Barker on the occasion of Darrell’s retirement in 1999.

Darrell was a colourful character who is remembered for his diverse contributions to botany and passionate commitment to plant conservation, as well as his sense of humour, generous nature and infectious enthusiasm.

Contributed by State Herbarium botanist Peter Lang.

Key Publications

Kraehenbuehl, D.N. (1986). History of botany in South Australia (1800-1955). In: Jessop, J.P. & Toelken, H.R. (eds), Flora of South Australia. Fourth Edition. Part 1, pp. 13-39. Government Printer: Adelaide. (0.9mb PDF)

Kraehenbuehl, D.N. (1996). Pre-European vegetation of Adelaide: a survey from the Gawler River to Hallett Cove. 317 pp. Nature Conservation Society of South Australia: Adelaide. (see book review).

Lang, P.J. & Kraehenbuehl, D.N. (1987). Plants of Particular Conservation Significance in South Australia’s Agricultural Regions: interim report. 178 pp. South Australian Dept. of Environment and Planning: Adelaide.

Callitris gracilis woodland, The Pinery, Grange. Original slide taken by Darren Kraehenbuehl in 1955.

The next 10 years — a new vision for taxonomy and biosystematics in Australia and New Zealand

It is so exciting!! Last Friday (27 April) we launched “Discovering Biodiversity—a decadal plan for taxonomy and biosystematics in Australia and New Zealand 2018–2027”. A small group of South Australians joined around 50 others to attend the launch at Parliament House in Canberra and a follow-up meeting to discuss the future implementation of the plan at The Shine Dome.

Artwork Decadal Plan by David Stacey

Since late 2012 dedicated and committed people from Australia and New Zealand worked together to get the plan underway. Following a grass-roots startup, we are fortunate that in last 18 months Kevin Thiele has coordinated a wide range of engagement and consultation. Teleconferences, online discussions, workshops at conferences and online writing sessions were held. Kevin also launched a taxonomy blog site noto|biotica, through which some big ideas, concepts and discussion was facilitated. Supported by the Working Group and an Advisory Committee the generation of the plan was highly collaborative and yet benefited from the unified voice Kevin gave the overall process.

Kevin was a champion at getting us to all share ideas, opinions and also to listen and convey to the community of ideas and to form a biosystematics community driven mission for the next decade. The professionalism of the Australian Academy of Science and the New Zealand Royal Society Te Apārangi, helped elevate the decadal plan Discovering Biodiversity to give us all a chance to see a way forward. The plan covers biodiversity from the bottom of the ocean to the tops of the mountains and will pave the way for coordination of new initiatives and to consolidate the immense body of work we already deliver…

I want to encourage everyone to read the plan, and also to enjoy the document itself, a great visual piece of work and well illustrated with images of the biodiversity of Australia and New Zealand! Also enjoy the artwork commissioned for the cover, Abundance by David Stacey. [Download full resolution (19MB) or smaller version (4.2MB)]. The forward by David Attenborough emphasises not only the role of taxonomy and biosystematics but the importance of recognising and valuing our biodiversity…

Also checkout the short video with David Attenborough to grab your interest!

Contributed by Michelle Waycott

Mentoring artists: Rebecca McEwan

During the month of March, I was fortunate to spend time at the State Herbarium with the support of the Guildhouse LimberUp mentorship program. Supporting South Australian Artists, Guildhouse enables artists to access opportunities and make connections with the broader community to support their practice. Through the LimberUp program I identified a valuable opportunity to engage with the State Herbarium to support the current themes in my work.

Rebecca mounting specimens onto herbarium sheets. Photo: R. McEwan.

Over the last few years my art practice has referenced my strong interest in plants at both a macroscopic and microscopic level. Concurrently my art practice has explored the relationship humans have created with bees and our dependence on them to maintain balance within our ecosystem.

The intent of this mentorship was to engage with and observe the unique and specialised environment of the State Herbarium. During the mentorship I observed processes involved in the “exemplar project”, i.e. classifying and curating pollen specimens to develop a pollen library for South Australia’s entire flowering plant flora, the first of its kind in Australia.

This clinical study directly linked to the ongoing theme of bees and their essential role in pollination in my studio practice. During my time at the Herbarium I had the opportunity to observe and partake in microscopy, specimen handling and processing, scientific observation and documentation undertaken as part of the project.

Pollen grains on the screen of the SEM (top) and artwork based on the SEM of pollen images (bottom). Photo & artwork: Rebecca McEwan.

The time with the SEM was invaluable. Previously only being able to see these images online, the opportunity to view the images in real time and manipulate them to gain a 3D perspective was fascinating and enabled me to gain a greater understanding of the pollen’s characteristics. It has allowed me to see and understand the process from specimen collection to preparation for microscopic viewing. One of the unexpected fascinating aspects has been the need for the minute pollen grains to be finely coated in platinum to create a more detailed image in the SEM.

Pollen samples for the “exemplar project”. Photo: Rebecca McEwan.

Having now commenced a 3-month artist-in-residence program at Sauerbier House in Port Noarlunga exploring the history of beekeeping within the Onkaparinga region and the role bees have played in viticulture and almond production I am able to reference the rich visual catalogue of shape, form and texture gained at the State Herbarium.

I have found this Guildhouse LimberUp mentorship program to be enriching and refreshing. The staff were extremely supportive of my endeavours and brimming with information I would not have been able to source any other way. The opportunity to be exposed to an environment which lives and breathes the themes of my art practice was very fulfilling.

I am very grateful to Professor Michelle Waycott, Peter Canty, and Carolyn Ricci and also the undergraduate Lee, and the many volunteers at the State Herbarium for making this such a valuable experience.

Pencil drawing by Rebecca McEwan. Photo by the artist.

Contributed by Rebecca McEwan (www.rebeccamcewan.com).