WORDS: Karin Holzknecht, PHOTOS: Karin Holzknecht & Bec Korossy-Horwood
Last weekend, on Saturday 12 October, some very curious Horticultured members gathered to hear all about the secret life of fungi from Dr Sapphire McMullan-Fisher.
Sapphire is a fungal ecology expert at the Royal Botanic Gardens, an author for Fungi-Map and a passionate fungi lecturer from La Trobe University. She is also a gifted speaker and quickly had us all enthralled.
“Try to not to think like a discrete organism,” she challenged us all, before diving into her lecture. Over the next few hours she explained how complex fungi are and how integral to our world.
We covered basic biology of fungi, structure, form, physiology, and reproduction. Then Sapphire took us through the general understanding of what makes up the ecosystem (sun, water, herbivores, carnivores, decomposers etc.), and demonstrated the roles that fungi play at every point.
Ultimately, fungi are critical to ecosystem success. They create multiple connections and perform multiple jobs, and are the third largest group of species in Australia (after invertebrates and microbes). Yet we know hardly anything about them, and the vast majority of funding for research and conservation goes to plants and animals, which make up just 7 per cent of Australia’s total species.
As land managers, we should be asking, what diversity of fungi are needed for healthy, functioning environments? What are the fungi in our environments and what jobs are they doing? How can we manage the soil to take the critical functions of fungi into account?
All these revelations were hunger-making, so we feasted on pizza, some with fungi toppings, before heading out into Burnley Gardens in search of lab samples. We fossicked about, particularly near fallen trees, and found some great fungi to examine.
Back in the lab, Sapphire gave us some tips on what to look for when identifying a fungus (e.g. spore prints), handy tools for the field, and good reference books. And then we got out the microscopes and spent some time examining the samples we collected. They definitely look a lot different up close!
On the whole it was an action-packed day and all of us who went along are very grateful to Bec White, who volunteered her time as lab technician so we could hold the workshop, and to Sapphire, who gave so generously of her knowledge and her infectious enthusiasm for the subject. The life of fungi, not quite as secret as before!
Thank you also to everyone who came along - we know it's a tricky time of semester for some. If you missed out or would like to learn more about fungi, we're planning to host a fungi walk in prime fungi season (Autumn) next year. Keep your eyes peeled for updates on that! In the meantime we encourage you to check out the resources on Fungi-Map; you can even get involved in a spot of crowd-sourced citizen science by submitting records of fungi you find.
Read all about it: MUC Garden and Burnley Student Association share updates on their activities.