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Fungi

 Fungi 4

Fungi is one of the lesser known biological kingdoms that is found in woodlands and grasslands. There are around 1 million fungi species in the world, with it estimated that there are more fungi species than plants on Earth. These species can vary in shape, size and colour, and therefore can be hard to identify as most people are only aware of large fungi that produce visible fruit bodies such as mushrooms.

 

 

Fungi characteristics:  

Most fungi are microscopic and can only be seen with the naked eye if their microscopic threads (hyphae) form thick growths or moulds. The most familiar species of fungi are those that produce spore-bearing fruit bodies. These larger or macro-fungi are puff balls, coral fungi, earthstars, truffles and other forms of mushrooms or toadstools.

 

Fungi can be a source of food and habitat for organisms as some invertebrates may breed within toadstools and feed off the fungi on dead leaves and wood. Some species of fungi can be detrimental to tree health and cause fungal decay which may cause the tree to become brittle and unstable. This is further explained in Tree diseases.

Fungi 8

 

There are fungus that are geographically and biologically restricted and have become rare as a result. Recently, fungi species have been added to the endangered species list. Other fungi species have decline due to pollutants and the loss of habitat due to deforestation and the cultivation of land. Therefore, woodland management should incorporate fungi conversation to allow woodland ecosystems to contain some level of rotting branches, fallen dead wood and leaf litter.

 

Decomposers:

The nutrient cycle in woodlands are extremely important for an organism’s life and can be aided by fungi which allows for a continuous supply of nitrogen and phosphorous within the ecosystem. As decomposer fungi transports, stores, releases and recycles phosphorous and nitrogen nutrients.

Decomposer fungi are vital as they decompose inorganic matter such as rotting branches, fallen dead wood and leaf litter from trees to release nutrients back into the soil to increase fertility. These nutrients are then taken up by the roots of plants, trees and organisms within that ecosystem. This process of decomposing within a woodland ecosystem can be done by fungi but also bacteria, worms, woodlice and other invertebrates.

 

Symbiotic relationships:

Fungi organisms can form symbiotic relationships with algae to produce lichens that can be found on the bark of trees. This is due to the microscopic fungi organism living inside of a tree that collects moisture from the surrounding environment that the algae needs to survive. The algae then creates nutrients through photosynthesis which the fungi needs to survive. This process creates the lichens seen on trees, as the fungi and algae both produce and digest the nutrients needed for survival in the form of a symbiotic relationship.

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Fungi can also form symbiotic associations with plant roots. The interaction between fungi and plant roots can protect trees from diseases and transfer nutrients between trees with an excess of nutrients, to those with a shortage.

 

Ancient & Veteran trees and Natural Woodland: 

Within a woodland, the most valuable habitat for fungi organisms are ancient trees. As the fungi species found may be of great age due to the ancient trees old age itself. This may mean that there are fungi species that have colonised the tree in previous centuries which may have been preserved along with the tree and therefore could be a rare find.  Veteran trees may also be a source of high fungi biodiversity as there may be a wide range of species within one piece of fallen wood.

Fungi can cause heart rot within a tree which is beneficial within an ancient tree as it prevents it from becoming too heavy and falling over during light winds and lightning strikes, as the tree is more flexible and lighter. However, the lack of weight is compensated by new growth around the cavity which tends to be stronger than average wood, and the tree rings that develop after the heart rot are thicker than normal.

Fungi organisms can maintain tree diversity in natural woodlands and provide an explanations as to why recent secondary woodlands are different from ancient woodlands. This is because the species of trees in a natural woodland are dependent on the additional nitrogen and phosphorous created by fungal activity within the soil. 

 More information on veteran trees in our Ancient & Vetern Trees section

Fungi 3                             Fungi 2

Birch Polypore (Piptoporus betulinus)                                  King Alfred's Cakes (Daldinia concentrica)

 

                            Fungi 6Fungi 10

 Porcelain Fungus (Oudermansiella mucida)                                 Bay Boletus (Boletus badius)

 

Additional information on fungi can be found in RFS QJF 2013