Taxonomy and systematics of truffles
Native truffles, both true and false, do occur in Australasia. They are incredibly diverse, with new species and even genera still being found on almost any field trip. Approximately 300 species have been described since the late 1890s. However, estimates are that as many as 2,000 species may occur in Australasia. This diversity is reflected in the ratio of truffle to agaricoid species within major families such as the Russulaceae, Cortinariaceae and Boletaceae, which is skewed towards the truffle forms in Australia compared to Europe or North America.
The general characteristics distinguishing truffle genera from related agaric taxa are that the spore-bearing tissue remains enclosed by the pileus, the spores are not actively discharged and the fruit-bodies are often hypogeal. Though truffle fruit-bodies are highly variable in colour, texture and form, some microscopic features of pileus structure, sterile cells, and spore ornamentation and colour do give indications of affinities. However, for some truffle taxa, the very simple morphology makes determining affinities difficult. In many cases molecular data is an essential additional set of characters.
Truffle fruit-body forms occur in most of the major families of Basidiomycota. Traditionally placed in their own genera, mounting evidence from molecular research suggests that most are not monophyletic. Not only have truffle fruit-body forms arisen many times within particular agaricoid genera, few wholly truffle clades exist.
- Teresa Lebel (Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne)
- Australian Biological Resources Study
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