Is it a plant or an animal – exploring Queensland rainforests

Why did the mushroom go to the party?
Because he’s a fungi!
Louis Tomlinson

Rainforests are magical places. There is so much to see, hear, feel and smell. There are giant trees, twisting and looping vines, melodic birds, dank soil, tumbling waterfalls, and rough, fuzzy, hairy bark along side smooth and mossy rocks. Another feature of rainforests that deserves some attention are organisms that are often overlooked. Fungi.

Fungi are fascinating. Being neither plant nor animal, despite sharing some properties common to both, they are recognised in a kingdom all of their own. There are five kingdoms used for classification of organisms: Plantae, Animalia, Fungi, Monera (bacteria), Protista (unicellular organisms). Unlike plants fungi do not photosynthesise. Having no chlorophyll they can’t convert sunlight into food. Being unable to produce their own food like other plants they scavenge it, like animals. Another trait shared with animals, or more correctly insects, is the existence of chitin in their cell walls.

Fungi’s role in the rainforest while not terribly glamorous is functional. Fungi recycle and decompose material. Many people don’t realise that the soil in rainforests is quite poor. To ensure rainforests continue to grow in this poor soil fungi break down organic material allowing nutrients to become available to plants for growth. These tiny fungi enable the huge trees to live. Now that’s pretty cool.

To be accurate, there are three basic types of fungi that feed off dead or living flora and fauna. There are Saptrotrophs that break down animal and plant remains so nutrients can be released and taken up by new living plants and animals. Parasitic fungi, on the other hand, attack living tissues and divert their resources to their own use. Mutualists digest wood to help other rainforest beings such as insects and help feed released nutrients back into growing trees. Not glamorous but definitely functional and way cool!

The dampness of the rainforest is essential, as some fungi need it to pump up their cells to keep their shape. Stronger fungi don’t need water for their form but to grow they require a high concentration of water in the wood they digest.

Have you ever hiked in a rainforest or national park and been required to dip and scrub your boots? Often this is because of the way fungi reproduce. They produce large numbers spores; some fungi release up to 200 million spores an hour. These spores are tiny and once discharged can travel huge distances. They are mostly distributed by wind but in the rainforest, the spores of many fungi are eaten and dispersed by insects and animals. Humans are animals. The grooves of hiking boots can carry many spores from place to place and be deposited when the caked on soil dries and falls out. Unwanted or troublesome strains of fungi spore can easily and inadvertently be transported this way.

Of huge importance is that rainforest fungi are not for human consumption. My best advice is to never eat fungi; many varieties can be toxic or fatal to humans. Leave the slugs, snails, cassowaries, rat kangaroos and insects to feast on fungi. Eat your trail mix instead.

Next time you are in the rainforest explore the small magic; look down, pay attention to the fallen trees and stumps. Enjoy the shape and the colour and the arrangement of the fungi on display. They play a vital role in our rainforests.

If you are not quite convinced, I leave you with some fun fungi facts.

  • Without fungi, dead plant material such as leaves, twigs and logs would pile up on the forest floor to form a massive heap as high as the canopy.
  • Some fungi glow in the dark.
  • It is possible there are more fungi than plants or animals.
  • One individual fungus of the species Armillaria bulbosa covers an area of 15 hectares. It weighs an estimated100 tonnes (the same as an adult blue whale), and is thought to be over 1500 years old.
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Backyard Adventurer

Twelve steps in to your back yard
Through tall green grass, and into the world
Ain’t it feel right
Ain’t it feel nice
In your own backyard
In your own backyard
Patrick Watson

image author unknownAs an explorer I love discovering and experiencing new places and I’ve realised I don’t have to go too far afield to do that when there are a wealth of adventures to be had in my own backyard.

My city is currently hosting the Peaks to Points Festival which is a month-long festival offering environmental, arts and cultural activities aimed at highlighting the community’s efforts to restore and protect Brisbane South catchments.

Last Sunday I joined  a short guided walk in Karawatha Forest and came away exhilarated, educated and awed by the power of community.

The Karawatha Protection Society and guided walk participants

The Karawatha Protection Society and guided walk participants

The Karawatha Forest is approximately 1000 hectares of bushland and coastal lowlands on the southern edge of Brisbane in Queensland Australia.  It contains a wealth of flora and fauna, waterways and magnificent  sandstone outcrops.

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The diverse fauna was an important food supply to the original inhabitants of the area, the Jagera people.  The creeks provided turtles and fish. The lagoons  provided fish and wading birds – as well as edible reeds and roots.

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This significant tract of inner city bushland was saved from development by three women sitting around a kitchen table when they formed The Karawatha Forest Protection Society (KPS). Public opinion was strongly in support and the City Council came on board and formed a partnership with the group.  The introduction of Council’s Bushland Levy made the purchase of significant lands possible as well as the maintenance and upkeep of the tracks within the forest.

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Since 1991 The council and the KPS have worked together to manage this beautiful piece of suburban bushland which has been zoned for recreation purposes only.

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I’ll definitely be going back to explore further.

What’s on your door step that you haven’t yet explored?