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Funghi fun guy

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Funghi fun guy

A secret botanical world has been discovered in the treetops of West Coast beech forests.

A team headed by Dr David Orlovich (Department of Botany) has made two significant finds: that old southern beech trees send roots into the soil that accumulates on their branches; and that communities of fungi live in this “aerial canopy soil”, including species that only grow on tree roots and would normally be expected to be found only on the ground.

It’s a symbiotic relationship – beech trees rely on fungi for nutrients.

Orlovich explains that canopy soil develops from falling plant debris trapped in nooks and crannies in the branches of beech trees, which then – remarkably – put roots into the canopy soil. He speculates that the fungi get into the canopy soil via the wind, birds or insects.

“We will now do DNA sequencing of all of the canopy fungi and compare them to the ground fungi and look for species or communities that specialise in being in the canopy rather than being on the ground.

“I think the fact that any fungi grow up in the canopy is pretty cool, but it would be a most exciting thing if we discovered new species that were only in the canopy.”

Orlovich has previously discovered several new species of fungi in New Zealand and points out that there is plenty of scope to identify more. “It’s been estimated that there are about 25,000 species of fungi in New Zealand, of which only about 5,000 are named.”

Photo: Graham Warman