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What's Eating Fungi in Tasmanian Ecosystems? 

Mycophagy (Greek: mýkēs - fungus and -phagía - to eat), is the process of an organism eating fungi.

 

The types and parts of fungi eaten varies from tiny fungal spores, running mycelium found in a damp, rotting pieces of wood on the forest floor; above-ground mushrooms, or aromatic truffle-like fungi, dug up from beneath the soil.

 

Soil mesofauna, insects, snails, slugs, birds, reptiles, marsupials and mammals have been observed feeding and/or breeding on fungi. For many insects, fungi may play an important role in their breeding cycle. Eggs laid in above-ground or below-ground fungi, give emerging larvae and adult insects an accessible food source early in their development.

Sun flies of the genus Tapeigaster are commonly seen on a variety of Australian fungi such as the below Amanita mushroom. Typically, a highly territorial male will patrol the caps of mushrooms while the female lays her eggs on the gills or pores below (Source: ANBG).

Amanita Tapeigaster.jpg

Growing larvae have access to a close food source on this Phylloporus mushroom.

Australian Tapeigaster flies patrolling an Amanita mushroom.

Marsupial diggings for fungi around th base of a Eucayptus tree.

The pungent odours of underground truffle-like fungi attract Long-nosed Potaroos resulting in numerous holes dug at the base of native trees such as Eucalyptus that form relationships with the fungi.

Tasmanian Pademelons are opportunistic eaters of fungi

Tasmanian Pademelons are opportunistic eaters of fungi.

True mycophagists include Long-nosed Potoroos and Tasmanian Bettongs who furiously dig around the bases of native trees such as Eucalypts in response to the pungent smell of the under-ground truffle-like fungi that may make up to 40-80% of their diet at certain times of the year. 

Opportunistic mycophagists including Bandicoots, Pademelons, wombats and possums consume fungi seasonally or for short periods. Accidental mycophagists include carnivorous animals including Barking, Masked and Sooty Owls and Spotted-tailed quolls when they eat smaller fungi-eating organisms (Maser et al. 2008).

Fauna-driven spore dispersal strategies used by fungi

 

Many fungi have spore dispersal strategies that depend on fauna. Insects may spread spores through eating and then excreting the spores, or unknowingly picking up spores as they explore a fruit body. A great example of this insect-fungus interaction is when observing the Stinkhorn group of fungi. These fungi have a foul-smelling spore-containing brown 'gleba' which attracts insects to feed on, or carry the spores on their legs after landing on it. 

 

The below footage shows the Australian native Anemone Stinkhorn - Aseroe rubra - fungus as flies and various insects attracted by the rotting-meat smell visit the central, brown gleba and in the process will help the fungus spread spores.

Fun Fact: The Aseroe rubra fungus was first collected by frenchman Jacques Labillardiere in May of 1792 from Recherche Bay in southern Tasmania. It was the first Australian fungus to be scientifically formally described. The alien-looking, red fruit body emerges from an egg-like sac often situated in amongst leaf litter or garden mulch. 

Fauna-driven spore dispersal strategies used by fungi

Spores held inside mushrooms eaten by various fauna will pass through the gut and be deposited into scats (poo). With rain, the animal scats are rinsed into the soil, depositing spores into fresh and hopefully favourable terrain. When the fruit body of a fungus rots down into a slimy mess, many insects and other soil invertebrates will feed on the slime and move through it, thus spreading spores even in death!

The slimy mess of fungal decay makes great food for invertebrates.

The slimy mess of this above ground fungal decay makes great food for invertebrates.

Spores from an underground truffle-like fungus.

Truffle-like-fungi-spores_edited.jpg
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