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Springbrook Fungi

Fungi — the most colourful, diverse, and ecologically fundamental Kingdom on Earth

Surveying and identifying fungi are important aspects of Springbrook Rescue. They can give clues as to whether restoration is proceeding naturally or needs our help.

Fungi are essential for the health and survival of almost all ecosystems. In fact, plants would not have been able to colonise the earth half a billion years ago without a partnership with fungi. They are a biological Kingdom in their own right, separate from animals, microorganisms, and plants, but are closer to animals than any other group of living organisms. There are potentially 1.5 million or more species of fungi on earth but only 6–7 per cent are formally known or described. It is thought that the total number of fungi in Australia may be 50,000-250,000 species of which only 11,846 are described (including 3,495 lichens) and most are unique to this country.

They control the fundamental carbon, water and nutrient fluxes that support life on earth, which in turn determine the diversity of species, their interactions with each other and the environment, and the myriad feedback loops amongst them that are so critical to long-term ecosystem resilience.

Fungi have many functions within ecosystems — as decomposers, symbiotic partners, nutrient cyclers, food sources, habitat creators and soil conditioners. Given their great diversity, ecological significance and specialised life styles, long-term fruiting body surveys of ectomycorrhizal fungi in particular constitute an extremely valuable, efficient indicator of ecosystem health and successional trends in ecological restoration projects.

Fungi are heterotrophic and thus must gain their carbon nutrition from external organic sources. At a broad trophic level, fungi are either
(a) free-living, gaining their essential carbon supplies by decomposing dead and decaying organic matter — the saprotrophic fungi or saprobes; or
(b) symbiotic, deriving their carbon supplies through intimate associations with other living species. These associations may be mutualistic (both benefiting), commensalistic (only one benefiting, the other partner unaffected, or parasitic/pathogenic (one benefiting, the host harmed.

Saprotrophic fungi or saprobes are found in soil, litter or wood, breaking down the cellulose, lignin and organic matter for their carbon supplies. Most of this carbon is returned to the atmosphere as CO2 through fungal aerobic respiration. They are vital to nutrient cycling and the integrity of trophic webs. Examples of litter decomposers include Marasmius and Mycena species. A few of the many wood decay fungi at Springbrook include species of Ganoderma, Piptoporus, Fomitopsis, Serpula. Because saprobes can have strong preferences for the type, age, and size of their host, they can be good indicators of successional dynamics. Saprotrophic fungi are also responsible for creating nesting hollows for so many of our forest fauna.

Mutualistic symbionts
Mutualistic symbionts include the mycorrhizal fungi that colonise plant roots, and fungal endophytes that live entirely within plant tissues.

Mycorrhizal fungi can be vesicular arbuscular mycorrhizas (VAM), ectomycorrhizas (ECM), ericoid mycorrhizas or orchid mycorrhizas.

The arbuscular mycorrhizas (VAM) are members of the Glomeromycota phylum. Though not species rich (only 230 described species) they are the most ancient, abundant and widespread of all fungi. They are nearly all obligate symbionts and provide vital phosphorus and nitrogen supplies to more than 80% of land plants which, in return, provide the fungi with sugars manufactured by photosynthesis. Their spores are large and readily detectable in soil extracts with a low-powered dissecting microscope.

Most ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi are macrofungi with readily visible fruit-bodies such as ‘mushrooms’ above ground, and truffles below. Fruit-body production is highly seasonal, irregular and patchy. Some fungi do not fruit for years; others are too cryptic to be noticed easily. They are members of either the Ascomycota (clubs, cups, flasks, jellies) and Basidiomycota (agarics, boletes, chantarelles corals, earthstars, polypores, puffballs, stinkhorns) and associate particularly with roots of the Casuarinaceae, Fabaceae (Mimosoideae, Papiloinoideae), Meliaceae, Myrtaceae, Nothofagaceae, Nyctaginaceae, Phyllanthaceae and Rhamnaceae plant families.

Erecoid mycorrhizas, mostly from the Ascomycota, are indispensible partners of plants in the Ericales order. These generally occur in stressful environments on ancient, highly weathered, nutrient-poor soils. At least 13 members of the Ericaceae occur at Springbrook in forests and heaths on depauperate rhyolite-derived soils.

Orchid mycorrhizas, mostly from the Basidiomycota, are likewise critically important for germination of miniscule orchid seeds that have virtually no energy reserves of their own.

Fungal endophytes, mainly members of the Ascomycetes, live entirely within root, stem and/or leaf tissues of all land plants. They have profound effects on plant ecology, survival, fitness and evolution. They improve biotic and abiotic stress tolerance, nutrient acquisition and productivity. These mutualistic symbiotic associations appear to be as ancient as those with mycorrhizas and as significant in facilitating the evolution of terrestrial floras.

Commensalist symbionts
Commensalism is very common in rainforests with good examples provided by epifoliar fungi (on leaf surfaces), mostly within the Ascomycota. The fungi spend their entire life cycle live on the surface of living plant leaves. They do not harm their host because plants can generally photo-compensate for light lost due to the epiphyll cover. Lichens can be considered an example of commensalism between a fungus and photosynthetic partner, either a green alga or cyanobacterium.

Parasitic/Pathogenic symbionts
All Tremella species parasitise other wood-rotting fungi (saprophytes) in both Ascomycota and Basidiomycota phyla. Tremella mesenterica (a gelly fungus) parasitises many members of the Peniophora genus. Beauvaria species (asexually reproducing forms of Cordyceps) parasitise a range of arthropod species. The microscopic spores, when in contact with the insect host, germinate and penetrate the cuticle killing the insect within days. Later a white mould emerges on the outside, producing more spores to attack more insects.

Tremella mesenterica
Photo: © Aila Keto

Dacrymyces s.l.
Photo: © Aila Keto

Beauvaria bassiana parasitises arthropods
Photo: © Aila Keto

Ecosystem engineers
Fungal hyphae also help bind soil particles into water-stable aggregates that are separated by pore spaces responsible for the soils water holding-capacity, infiltration and drainage properties.

ARCS Fungi Surveys
The Queensland Mycological Society (QMS) and the Australian Rainforest Conservation Society (ARCS) have undertaken fungi surveys since 2007, at a range of different sites at Springbrook, as one of several projects ARCS is undertaking to document the area’s rich biodiversity. We have had the generous help of many mycologists in their private capacity: Drs Diana Leemon (Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, QLD), Richard Robinson (Department of Environment and Conservation, WA), Sapphire McMullan-Fisher (mycologist, WA) and colleagues from QMS, as well as Nigel Fechner (Queensland Herbarium). To date we have provisionally identified 203 taxa either to species or genus level in 2 phyla, 9 classes, 26 orders, 54 families, and 111 genera. The ARCS photographic fungi collection contains over 1500 images of which those below are but a small selection.

Fungi are divided into two major groups. Phylum Ascomycota and Phylum Basidiomycota. Ascomycota includes Clubs and Cups; Basidiomycota includes Agarics, Chantarelles, Boletes, Polypores, Leathers, Corals, Jellies, Earthstars, Puffballs and Stinkhorns.



Trichoglossum hirsutum
(Geoglossaceae) in the Lelotiales Order, with finely hairy surfaces, is one of several black “earth tongues” generally occurring amongst moss. The “hairs” are actually elongated sacs which hold spores. There are three Australian species in the genus, T. hirsutum being cosmopolitan in its distribution.

Photo: © Aila Keto


Cookeina tricholoma
(Sarcoscyphaceae) in the Pezizales Order, a tropical saprobe found on dead wood in rainforests at high altitudes at Springbrook

The cup and flask fungi belong to the largest fungal class of all, with over 500,000 known species world wide in 230 families and more than 3,000 genera.

Photo: © Aila Keto



Marasmius elegans (Marasmiaceae) a litter saprobe.

Marasmius elegans is easily recognised by the two-tone stems

Photo: © Aila Keto

Cyptotrama asprata (Marasmiaceae) a saprobe on decaying woood in tropical and subtropical forests

It is one of the common, but most beautiful mushrooms.

Photo: © Aila Keto

Agaricus bitorquis (Agaricaceae)

Gills are dark chocolate to black. Found on abandoned pasture on one of the Springbrook Rescue restoration sites.

Photo: © Aila Keto

Coprinellus  disseminatus (Agaricaceae)
Photo: © Aila Keto

Gymnopilus junonius (Cotinariaceae)

Webcaps are one of the easiest to identify because of the distinctive reddish veil girdles or “bracelets” on the stems. Often there are 2 to 4 of these marks. On this individual the marks have faded.

Photo: © Aila Keto

Cotinarius sp. (Cotinariaceae) another webcap found on ANKIDA, a biodiverse property owned by ARCS to protect, study and restore.

Photo: © Aila Keto

Phaeocollybia sp. (Cortinariaceae) a saprobe, often associated with cool temperate rainforests; deeply rooting to buried decaying wood

Photo: © Aila Keto

Favolaschia pustula (Mycenaceae) an uncommon, unusual agaric where the fertile surfaces are pores rather than gills.
Photo: © Aila Keto


Cantharellus ochraceoravus
(Cantharellaceae) a mycorrhizal fungus

Chantarelles are easily identified by the gills running down the stems and their wavy caps. They are often yellow because many contain antioxidant carotenoids.

Photo: © Aila Keto


Strobilomyces vetulipes
(Cotinariaceae) Found by Dr Keith Scott in rainforest along side Waterfall Creek on Ankida, a biodiverse property owned by ARCS for its protection, study and restoration.

Photo: © Aila Keto


Gloeoporus phlebophorus
  (Meruliaceae), a saprobe on wood, mainly fallen tree trunks or branches causing a form of white rot. A temperate species in southern Australia, commonly on Beech species.

It is not common in Queensland with only 1-2 records. Found during ARCS surveys in the Cave Creek Catchment.

Photo: © Aila Keto

Microporus xanthopus Yellow-footed Tinypore (Polyporaceae) a saprobe on rotting wood

The funnel-shaped caps are often wavy and can hold water. The undersurface is white with tiny pores.

It is found in tropical Australasia, Asia and Africa but absent from America.

Photo: © Aila Keto


sp. (Steareaceae)

These are saprobic on dead wood. The underside is smooth, lacking a pore surface, and so is a crust fungus rather than a polypore.

Photo: © Aila Keto

Stereum sp. (Steareaceae)

These are saprobic on dead wood. The underside is smooth, lacking a pore surface, and so is a crust fungus rather than a polypore.

Photo: © Aila Keto


Artomyces pyxidata (Auriscalpiaceae) a delicate branching coral fungus on decaying logs in high-altitude Beech forests at Springbrook.

Photo: © Aila Keto

Clavaria amoena (Clavariaceae) an ectomycorrhizal fungus found amongst leaf litter in high altitude rainforest
Photo: © Aila Keto


Dacrymyces s.l. (Dacrymycetaceae)
It looks very much like D. chrysospermus but this species is symmetrically rather than irregularly lobed.

        These are generally saprobes on well rotted wood.

Photo: © Aila Keto

Tremella globispora (Tremellaceae)

The name Tremella is from the Latin tremere “to tremble” because of its jelly-like nature.

All Tremella species parasitise other fungi – mainly wood-rotting fungi in both Ascomycota and Basidiomycota, especially on dead attached branches. This example was on the bark of a dead tree trunk.

Photo: © Aila Keto

Earth Stars

Aseroe rubra Starfish Fungus (Phallaceae) a saprobe found amongst pine bark on one the Springbrook Rescue restoration sites.

Photo: © Aila Keto


sp. An Earth Star (Geastraceae)

See the video from the BBC Planet Earth series via the link provided above.

Photo: © Aila Keto

Cyathus stercoreus (Nidulariaceae), a saprobe on dung or dung enriched soils.

Found in abandoned pasture on one of the Springbrook Rescue restoration sites.

Photo: © Aila Keto


Slime moulds are peculiar protists that normally take the form of amoeba but also develop fruiting bodies that release spores, and are superficially similar to the sporangia of fungi.


Stemonitis splendens
(Stemonitidaceae) a saprotrophic slime mould on decaying wood.

These are one of the most distinctive slime moulds. It fruits in clusters on dead wood and has distinctive tall brown sporangia supported on slender stalks.

Stemonitis sp. (Stemonitidaceae)
Photo: © Aila Keto