WHAT does bread, beer, cheese and vegemite have in common? The answer is fungi.
Just when you were getting fed up with the welcome rain we had a few weeks back, the fungi were smiling from ear to ear. Mind you, they won't be too happy about how quickly things have dried out since.
Like animals and plants, fungi are so distinctive and important that they are classified in a kingdom of their own.
All the fungi that you see fall into one of three categories, depending on how they obtain their food: parasites (from living organisms); saprophytic (from dead or decaying matter); and mycorrhizal (from mutually beneficial relationships with the roots of plants).
Many of you will have witnessed the destructive power of fungi, e.g. in your unsupervised fruit bowl. However, there is another, massively beneficial side of fungi which is often less noticed.
Fungi drive the global carbon-cycle by breaking down organic matter, thereby providing nutrients to other living organisms.
They also play a major role in forest health through mutualistic relationships with plant roots, without which there would be some very unhealthy vegetation awaiting you on your bush walks.
I urge you to practice the skill of attentive observation. Next time we have a period of really wet weather, look more closely at the ground as you walk, or at the dead log on the ground; you will undoubtedly be surprised by noticing more than one example of fungi.
For help with identification and general skills in observing fungi, try the website fungimap or source a recently published field guide called Australian Subtropical Fungi.
So, next time you're enjoying a blue cheese or vegemite sandwich with an ice-cold beer or a wine, think of the role that fungi play in the existence of humans.
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