Australian Dung Loving Fungi
Australian Dung Loving Fungi
Coprophilic or 'dung-loving', fungi are found on a variety of fungi including native (eg: Wallaby) and introduced herbivore (eg: sheep, cow, goat, rabbit) dung. The moist, nutrient rich, dung can support an assorted and dynamic community of fungal species through the ability of dung to hold moisture and nutrients over long periods.
Dung fungi are found throughout the world, with the potential to be carried great distances by the wind, animals and their feed (eg: hay), particularly with the exchange of goods between continents.
Dung fungi perform a crucial ecological role, breaking down and recycling nutrients from the organic matter in the dung, making them readily available within the ecosystem.
The spores of dung fungi which have fallen, rainsplashed, or blown onto vegetation such as grass, are eaten by grazing herbivores and thick-walled spores may be weakened as they pass through the digestive tract to germinate in freshly deposited dung, continuing the cycle.
The appearance of fungal fruit bodies on herbivore poo is triggered by a combination of how quickly the fungus can obtain enough nutrition for fruit body production, moisture, temperature and the interactions of other organisms that also use the dung for habitat and food.
Fighting Faecal fungi- Competition is fierce on the faeces!
Many types of dung fungi may exist on a single dropping, with the myceliums of some dung fungi trying to outcompete each other for nutrients through the use of chemicals to destroy competition.For example dung fungi from Coprinus , Panaeolus, Stropharia and Bolbitius genus, have been found to perform 'hyphal interference' with other dung fungi, damaging the permeability of fungal cells.
Have you ever been
on a POO HUNT?!
Look for rabbit, cow, goat, sheep poo or if you live in the country, you might have some wallaby poo in your back yard.
Collect the poo and put it into a plastic container and keep it moist. Over time, you will see different types of dung fungi emerge!!
Koala Poo to the Rescue?
Fungi found on koala dung produce powerful enzymes to help with the breaking down of the tough Eucalyptus leaves in a koala's diet. These enzymes have the potential to be useful for industrial applications including manufacture of paper, detergents and food products. Using these enzymes in industrial processes would replace conventional chemical catalysts reducing negative impacts on the environment.
(Peterson, Grinyer & Nevalainen 2010)
History told with Dung fungi!
Archaeologists may be able to trace the rise and fall of levels of human colonisation through declines or rises in dung fungi spore records. Ancient people lived around large herbivores, and their droppings would contain fungi spores. A spore decline upon human colonization in Australia, New Zealand and Madagascar has been observed (Perrotti & van Asperen 2018).
(Sebastian Münster 1544)
Commonly seen Dung fungi
Small Dung Button - Poronia erici is a pale, small (less than 6mm in diameter) round fungus found on marsupial and introduced herbivore dung. This tiny dung loving 'Valentino' appears singularly or in groups on dung in forests, woodlands, heaths and pastures.
Fairly common and widespread from May to October, it has been recorded on the Fungimap iNaturalist project across all states and territories of Australia.
The surface of the small discs is punctuated with small black ostioles, through which the spores are released. The spores of Poronia erici on vegetation such as grass, are eaten by grazing herbivores and the thick-walled spores pass through the digestive tract to germinate in freshly deposited dung, continuing the cycle.
In addition to Australia, Poronia erici has been found in Britain and Europe, with researchers speculating that it was introduced into these areas from its original home in Australia.
Cheilymenia sp. This dung fungus is found worldwide in colonies of small, orange cups 2-5mm in diameter, with brown hairs around the rim. There are a few different species that all look similar and require looking at microscopic features.
Cheilymenia coprinaria - In A Field Guide to Tasmanian Fungi, there is a species listed Cheilymenia coprinaria which can be found in Tasmania along with other Cheilymenia species of which to compare may require the use of a microscope to compare features.
Microscopically they have smooth spores and hairs around the edge of the cups (Apothecial Hairs), of this species are dark-coloured, may measure more than 500u. They are embedded deep into the fungal tissue with 'apothecial rooting hairs' appearing as branched, forked bases. Other species may have stellate hairs in addition to the rooting hairs. The layer of tissue that contains the hymenium inside the cup, has two layers. (Denison 1964)
Possibly some kind of 'Ink cap' or Coprinus-like species. The fruitbodies of Coprinus fungi autodigest into a black inky liquid and is where the common name 'ink cap' for members of this genus comes from. The IDs for these two dung fungi featured have not been confirmed, however they do look to be autodigesting, (left).
Australian National Botanical Gardens (ANBG) (2012) Dung fungi. https://www.anbg.gov.au/fungi/ecology-dung.html
Bell, A. (2005) An Illustrated Guide to the Coprophilous Ascomycetes of Australia. CBS Biodiversity Series 3, Utrecht : Centraalbureau voor Schimmelcultures.
Denison, William C. (1964) The Genus Cheilymenia in North America. Mycologia, vol. 56, no. 5, pp. 718–737.
Herrera, J., Poudel, R. & Khidir, H.H., (2011) Molecular Characterization of Coprophilous Fungal Communities Reveals Sequences Related to Root-Associated Fungal Endophytes. Microb Ecology 61, pp. 239–244.
Hudson H.J. (1986) Fungi as inhabitants of animal faeces. In: Hudson HJ (ed) Fungal biology. Edward Arnold, London, pp. 146–158.
Perrotti, A.G., van Asperen, E. (2018) Dung fungi as a proxy for megaherbivores: opportunities and limitations for archaeological applications,Vegetation History and Archaeobotany (2019) vol. 28, pp.93–104.
Peterson, R., Grinyer, J. & Nevalainen, H., 2010. Extracellular hydrolase profiles of fungi isolated from koala faeces invite biotechnological interest. Mycological progress, 10(2), pp.207–218.
Webster, J. (1970) Presidential address: coprophilous fungi. Trans Br Mycol Society, vol. 54, pp.161–180.