Fungi in soils
Soils are among the most biodiverse ecosystems on earth. Just 1 g of soil can contain between 5,000 and 10,000 species of microorganisms and several meters of fungal mycelium. Fungi in soil provide essential ecosystem services, including the recycling of dead organic material, carbon storage, plant nutrition and pathogen suppression, along with physical stabilisation of soil. By interacting with the roots of plants, as well as with other soil microbes, mycorrhizal fungi are keystone species that sustain the biodiversity and functioning of the entire ecosystem.
RBGV scientists use eDNA techniques to characterise the diversity of fungi in environmental samples like soil, animal scats or plant roots. We develop laboratory and bioinformatics tools to map the diversity of soil fungi in Australia and predict how they are affected by environmental changes, such as increased drought and temperatures, nutrient imbalances, and altered fire regimes. We also perform greenhouse experiments to identify key functions of the fungi that form mycorrhizal associations with native trees.
These methods rely on DNA sequences from known species to identify the fungi in eDNA samples and to infer their functions, whether as decomposers, mycorrhizae, or pathogens.
Hosting one of the largest fungariums in the southern hemisphere, RBGV's collections are invaluable in supporting DNA sequence databases and linking them to fungal species.
Fungi are a significant part of the diet of many native mammals in Australia, including wallabies, potoroos and bettongs. The consumption of fungi by animals, known as mycophagy, not only contributes to the diet of endangered mammal species, but also supports fungal spore dispersal and ultimately plant communities, since many fungi consumed by mammals form mycorrhizal associations with native Australian trees.
RBGV scientists decipher these intricate relationships between native mammals, fungi and plants: we document the diet of fungi-consuming mammals in their native range, or in places where they have been re-introduced. Using greenhouse experiments, we also assess the impact of mammal scats for the establishment of mycorrhizal fungal and plant communities in new habitats.