Category Archives: News

Research news: fungi paper published

The State Herbarium of South Australia‘s mycologist, Dr Teresa Lebel, published the following paper with her co-authors, yesterday, in the journal Fungal Systematics and Evolution (FUSE):

T. Lebel, J.A. Cooper, M.A. Castellano & J. Nuytinck (2021). Three independent evolutionary events of sequestrate Lactifluus species in Australasia. FUSE 8: 9-25 (open access).

Three Australian species of fungi with sequestrate (truffle-like) basidiome forms are recorded for the first time in the genus Lactifluus (milk-caps) based on nuclear ITS-LSU DNA sequences and morphological data. These species represent three rare independent evolutionary events resulting in truffle-like basidiomes arising from agaricoid (typical mushroom forms) species in three different sections in two subgenera. All three species have highly reduced basidiome forms, and no species with intermediate forms have been found.

Lactifluus dendriticus (T. Lebel) T. Lebel, J. Cooper & Nuytinck (originally described as Zelleromyces dendriticus) is unique in the genus Lactifluus in having highly branched, dendritic terminal elements in the pileipellis. One other new species is formally described in this paper: Lactifluus geoprofluens T. Lebel, Castellano, Claridge & Trappe. The third taxon is only given the informal name Lactifluus sp. prov. KV181, as not enough material was available for a detailled description.

The mushroom-like Lactifluus wirrabara (A) and its close relative, the truffle-like Lactifluus dendriticus (B). Photos: T. Lebel.

Second edition of book on EP plants

Recently, a revised second edition of this popular book on Eyre Peninsula plants was published by the author.

Saunders, Brian (2021). Flowering plants of lower Eyre Peninsula: An illustrated tour of the native flora (second edition), 203 pp. Lane Print & Post: Camden Park.

Like in the first edition of the book, the author gives a photographic identification guide to the more common plants of lower Eyre Peninsula, with brief notes on their distribution and biology. The southern half of Eyre Peninsula is home to many remarkable plants, including some which are endemic to the region.

A list of all EP native plants can be found through the eFloraSA website.

State Herbarium of South Australia botanists Peter Lang was heavily involved in the book project, advising Brian on the correct names of plants and checking text and images.

The publication is available for $25 in Coffin Bay (Post Office and IGA Store), as well as Port Lincoln (Visitor Information Centre and Beers Newsagency).

Fungal Hitch-hikers to Oz — some are poisonous

A number of mushrooms that fruit at the start of the autumn are fungi that have been introduced to Australia with their non-native tree hosts. These are the ectomycorrhizal fungi that have hitch-hiked to Oz on the roots of pines, firs, birch, oaks and willows. Ectomycorrhizal fungi form an obligate symbiosis with the roots of their host trees, providing water and access to nutrients that the plant roots can’t get too, and in return receiving food in the form of sugars that the fungus can’t make for itself.

In the early days, plants were transported to Australia as seedlings or small trees, sometimes as bare root stock, or at times in a pot of soil. The native fungi in Australia cannot form these symbioses with the non-native trees, so it was critical that these ectomycorrhizal hitch-hikers came along for the ride, enabling the establishment of some lovely trees.

Ectomycorrhizal roots (LEFT) and a cross-section of a root-tip showing the ‘sock’ of fungal hyphae surrounding the root and penetrating in between root cells (blue staining; RIGHT)

While the identity of species fruiting with oaks, pines and birch are reasonably well known, there are still surprises, and very little known about the ectomycorrhizal hitch-hikers that grow with willows. Unfortunately while there are some edible mushrooms in the mix, there are also some poisonous species, including the deadly toxic Amanita phalloides or deathcap. If you see any of these poisonous mushrooms, then please lodge photos in our iNaturalist fungisight project. This will help provide a better idea of how widely these mushrooms are distributed.

Amanita phalloides grows only with oaks, chestnut & hazelnut in Oz. Caps are generally greenish yellow, shiny, 3-10 cm wide. Gills white. Stem has a ring or skirt, and a bulbous sac (volva) that the stem sits inside at the base.

POISONOUS — One of the most poisonous of all known mushrooms, a piece the size of a 20c piece or a small button is enough to cause serious organ damage or fatality. The principal toxin is α-amanitin, which damages the liver and kidneys, causing liver and kidney failure, in people and pets.

Amanita phalloides. Photo: T. Lebel.

Amanita phalloides. Photo: T. Lebel.

Amanita muscaria grows with birch, pines, & oaks. Caps are red to orange with white flecks on top, 8-20 cm wide. Gills white. Stem has a ring or skirt and a bulbous base.

POISONOUS — Contains several active compounds, muscimol a psychoactive and ibotenic acid a neurotoxin. Deaths from this fungus have occurred but are rare.

Amanita muscaria (composite image). Photo: R. Halling.

Paxillus involutus grows with birch, oaks, hazel, & pines. Caps are various shades of brown, funnel-shaped up to 12 cm wide with a distinctive inrolled rim. Gills slightly lighter in colour than the cap, running down the stem (decurrent) (see also images on the Kaimai Bush page).

POISONOUS — An antigen in the mushroom triggers the immune system to attack red blood cells. People can consume the mushroom for years without any other ill effects, before suddenly becoming seriously to fatally ill.

Paxillus involutus. Photo: T. Lebel.

Lactarius pubescens grows with birch. Caps are a blend of pink and brownish, sometimes with concentric zones of alternating lighter and darker shades, often with a central depression, up to 10 cm wide. The edge of the cap is rolled inward, and shaggy when young. Gills are a similar colour to the cap. When cut or injured, the fruit bodies ooze a bitter white milk (see also information on the First Nature page).

POISONOUS — This species is highly irritating causing mild to severe gastro. The toxins, also responsible for the strongly bitter or acrid taste, are typically destroyed by cooking or long preparation.

Lactarius pubescens (LEFT), close-up of gills and edge of cap (RIGHT). Photos: T. Lebel.

Lactarius turpis / necator typically grows with birch, but can grow on pine & spruce. Caps are olive brown or yellow-green and often sticky or slimy, with an inrolled margin and velvety zones when young. Cap becomes funnel-shaped and darkens to blackish in age, up to 8–20 cm wide. Gills dirty white, stained olive-brown by old milk, running slightly down the stem (see also information on the First Nature page).

NOT RECOMMENDED  Very bitter/acrid tasting and contains a mutagen nectorin.

Lactarius turpis. Photo: T. Lebel.

If you suspect you or someone you know has eaten a wild mushroom, do not wait for symptoms to appear. Contact the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 for advice and always call triple zero (000) in an emergency.

Written by State Herbarium mycologist Dr Teresa Lebel.

New research paper on fungi

Geothermal area in New Zealand, habitat shot. Photo: T. Lebel.

State Herbarium mycologist Teresa Lebel is involved in a research project on ectomycorrhizal fungi, which resulted in this recent publication:

Pisolithus albus fruiting bodies in a geothermal vent. Photo: T. Lebel.

Plett, K.L., Kohler, A., Lebel, T., Singan, V.R., Bauer, D., He, G., Ng, V., Grigoriev, I.V., Martin, F., Plett, J.M. & Anderson, I.C. (2021). Intra-species genetic variability drives carbon metabolism and symbiotic host interactions in the ectomycorrhizal fungus Pisolithus microcarpus. Environmental Microbiology 23: 2004-2020 (open access).

Pisolithus species are important ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi, forming symbiotic associations with the roots of Myrtaceae, Nothofagaceae, Pinaceae, Fagaceae in particular. In Australia these fungi occur in diverse habitats, but in New Zealand the mycorrhizal hosts only occur around geothermal areas. In this paper the extent of intra-species variation between four isolates of the ECM fungus Pisolithus microcarpus, in terms of gene regulation, carbon metabolism and growth, and interactions with a host, Eucalyptus grandis, was explored. The authors’ results highlight the importance of sampling a wider range of individuals within a species to understand the broader ecological roles of ECM fungi and their host interactions.

The typical fruitbody texture and colour of a Pisolithus species, with large granular texture of chambers in the spore bearing tissue. Collection TL2765, made on Kangaroo Island. Photo: D. Catheside.

Written by State Herbarium mycologist Teresa Lebel.

The South Australian bryophyte DigiVol project

The bryophyte collection in the State Herbarium. Photo: A. Thornhill.

In the middle of 2019, I began developing a project to make a database of the South Australian bryophyte collection. There are over 30.000 bryophyte specimens in the State Herbarium of South Australia (AD), most of them stored in envelopes with the information typed or hand written on to the front of the envelope (like most bryophyte collections in herbaria). All of the envelopes had accession numbers but very few of them had barcodes or were databased.

With the help of Nunzio Knerr from CSIRO we developed some scripts that would read printed barcodes from a digital image and put the barcode number in the file name. Another script read any typed information and turned it into a text file. At the same time I was told about DigiVol, an Australian initiative that has citizen scientists transcribe scientific information, such as institute collections or camera-trap images. With the help of Eleanor Crichton and Ainsley Calladine from the State Herbarium we developed a bryophyte transcription template to capture the information from each envelope.

The second stage was the biggest part of the project. At the end of 2019 and start of 2020 we began the task of recording accession numbers of each envelope, printing out a barcode, sticking the barcode onto the envelope, and taking a photo of each envelope.

A typical envelope containing a moss collection. Photo: A. Thornhill.

With the help of summer student scholars Joel Bowes and Sam Billings, as well as weekly volunteers Catherine Courtney and Bonnie Newman we started off with a bang and were processing around 500 envelopes a day. A number of test DigiVol “expeditions” were created, and we began to transcribe the envelopes with the idea that we would iron out errors before making the expeditions live.

At the end of March 2021, Covid-19 hit Australia and everything came to a screeching halt. No volunteers could come to the herbarium nor staff. What had started off so promising had now stopped. We had around 2.000 envelopes already imaged and set up as expeditions, but they were yet to be made live. At the end of April 2020, it was decided we should make the expeditions live and see what happen

Photographing the bryophyte envelopes. Photo: A. Thornhill.

The first expedition with 477 envelope images was made live in May. It was completed in five days. The second expedition was made live and finished just as quickly. Soon, we started running out of a bank of images. In mid-May there were a slight lifting of restrictions and we were allowed to return to work or one or two days a week. I made the decision that I would take the images by myself to try and keep ahead of the DigiVol volunteers. From June to October, I imaged around 15.000 envelopes and just managed to stay ahead of the volunteers, who transcribed at a rapid rate.

In November it was agreed that Bonnie could return as a volunteer and with her help the imaging productivity skyrocketed. By the end of 2020 we had barcoded and captured the image of 24.000 envelopes. At the start of January 2021, I dedicated two weeks to finish the remaining 6.000 envelopes, which we completed at the end of January.

State Herbarium bryophyte volunteers and student scholars busy at work. Photo: A. Thornhill.

As it currently stands the DigiVol volunteers have transcribed over 25.000 envelopes, which is about 80% of the collection. The transcribing is likely to be finished by the end of March at our current rate. Once this is done we will curate our records and then the information will be made available through the Australasian Virtual Herbarium.

When I designed the project I had no idea that it would be completed so quickly. The fact that many Australians had not much to do due to lockdown and so turned to DigiVol certainly helped, but it also helped that we had a dedicated team of volunteers, both at the herbarium and online, who dedicated many hours to complete this project so quickly. If you are interested to see what the DigiVol project looks like then it can be viewed here.

Written by State Herbarium botanist Andrew Thornhill.