Feb 5 2020
As the continent of Australia continues to burn, scientists wonder what these ecosystems will look like in the future. So much attention is given to the loss of ecosystems for the charismatic megafauna, like the koalas and kangaroos and other endemic mammals who are so direly and visibly affected. A powerful joint statement from Australia's Natural History Museum Directors discusses the future of biodiversity studies in Australia to understand the damage and changes in biodiversity in the wake of the fires, but focuses solely on animals.
Fire in ecosystems affects all organisms, and we must not overlook those who form the base of ecological functions.
Fungi are extremely diverse, both in their appearances and in the roles they play in ecosystems. They can be important food sources for endangered and threatened mammals in Australia, a subset of which eat only truffle-like fungi and are the only known dispersers of those species. Fungi are vital to decomposition of organic materials, and other forms of nutrient cycling. They partner with plants as mycorhhiza, helping plants in nutrient-poor soil get the nutrients they need to survive. Fungal relationships with organisms in their environments are complex, so it follows that the ways the fires will affect the fungi of Australia are also complex and variable. These effects are less understood than the effects on animals and vascular plants. We know that habitats and suitable substrates for fungi will be destroyed or changed by fires, but it remains unclear exactly how and which fungi will survive.
Below are some 'charismatic megafungi' from Australia to appreciate.