A paper just published describing the new marine fungus Annabella australiensis sheds a pinprick of light on a hugely neglected area of biodiversity - marine fungi.
Sally Fryar from Flinders University and colleagues discovered the new species on mangroves growing around Torrens Island, South Australia. This is the first record of a fungus growing on mangroves in South Australia and only the 11th species of marine fungus found in that state. It's also different enough from any other fungus that the authors created the new genus Annabella for it.
Annabella australiensis grows on dead, decaying wood in the intertidal zone of mangrove forests. Its large spores are probably spread in seawater, although the biology of the new species has been scarcely studied.
Fungi are an essential, ubiquitous, and very poorly understood component of marine ecosystems. Other than bacteria, fungi are the only organisms that can degrade dead wood, leaves, roots and other organic matter containing cellulose and lignin. Marine fungi are found from the deepest seafloors to coral reefs and intertidal zones. But they are amongst the least-explored groups of marine organisms.
The new species A. australiensis has minute, urn or pear shaped, uncoloured or slightly yellowish apothecia (the sexual structures that are important for identifying and classifying species) that sit on the outside of decaying wood. Inside the apothecia are cylindrical asci containing ellipsoid ascospores. Microscopic characters and phylogenetic analysis using molecular markers place Annabella australiensis in the family Cordieritidaceae, most of which have larger, disc-shaped, dark-coloured apothecia.
Of course, marine fungi, as with other fungi, show enormous potential for the discovery of cancer-inhibiting, antibacterial, and antifungal drugs. Fungi are hyperdiverse and are one of the most important groups within 'dark biodiversity' - the vast number of species that remain invisible to us because they have not been taxonomically explored yet.
And marine fungi are poorly understood even for fungi. During the late 1980s and 1990s, a few mycologists actively studied marine fungi in Australia, mostly focused on Queensland. Since that time, there has been very little research on the marine fungi of Australia.
This new paper is a welcome addition, and a tiny shaft of light, in a very under-explored area of Australia's biodiversity.
Thanks to Sally Fryar for providing the core of this blog.