We meet ecologist, Environmental photographer, natural historian and fungi fanatic Alison Pouliot who is determined to change the way we understand this amazing Kingdom and our relationships to it.
“Fungi are an amazing, diverse, curious, fascinating kingdom” said Alison. ‘I have been intrigued by fungi since a very young age”. Drawn in by the fascinating forms of fungi, Alison’s interest was initially an aesthetic one, but this bloomed into a thirst for further knowledge – “I wanted to know what these fungi did, how they did it and why” she explained.
Fungi underpin our ecosystems, from woodlands to garden spaces, and this interweaving of ecologies has always been of interest to Alison. “Fungi occupy a kingdom all of their own. For a long time they were considered to be plants, however we’ve known now for 50 years or so that they are not” said Alison. Fungi do not possess chlorophyll and as such do not photosynthesize, and they have no cellulose or lignin as plants do. “Plants are producers, animals are the consumers, and the fungi are the great recyclers” said Alison.
Alison has a genuine passion for fungi, and is still fascinated by their varying forms – from the “gilled” fungus that we are most familiar with in the supermarket, to lattice balls, coral-like displays, phallus-like clubs protruding from the earth, jellies, stinkhorns and others. But the fungi we see is “just the tip of the iceberg” according to Alison. “What we are seeing is the reproductive structure of the fungus that exists as mycelia, this amazing tapestry of long, inter-connected cells of hyphae that exist under the soil”.
One of the fungi that many people are familiar with is the Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria), with the almost fairy-tale like red and white spotted cap. This fascinating fungi forms symbiotic mycorrhizal relationships with conifers – the roots of the fungi latch on to those of the conifer, and as those roots extend out, the conifer is able to access more nutrients and moisture. In return, the fungi receives a feed of sugars from the conifer.
While many Australians love a tidy garden, free from leaf letter and organic debris, Alison explains that this is the habitat of fungi. “By raking up these items, we are removing this valuable habitat, and missing out on the ecological benefits of fungi diversity in our own gardens. There are three F’s in our Australian environments – flora, fauna and fungi – and I want people to understand and appreciate the valuable role that fungi plays in our overall biodiversity” said Alison.
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