A particularly rare and highly endangered fungus, called the tea-tree fingers, is rapidly losing its spread in the Australian mainland.
On French Island, a few kilometres from the Mornington Peninsula of the country’s southeast, scientists and volunteers found the most significant refuge of tea-tree fingers (scientifically known as Hypocreopsis amplectens) of all time.
An estimate of a bit over a hundred fruiting bodies live on the island that used to be the hunting ground for the Boonwurrung people.
Sapphire McMullan-Fisher of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne said:
“The discovery of protected areas of tea-tree finger’s habitat on French Island greatly improves the prospect of the species’ survival into the future.”
She also added that the discovery raises particular questions regarding the dispersal mechanisms of the tea-tree fingers, including how they managed to cross a 2-to 5-kilometre stretch of ocean.
Despite the intense surveys to find tea-tree fingers on the mainland, only four popular locations in the state of Victoria were discovered since the fungus was first analyzed by modern researchers in the early 90s.
The rare species typically finds its home on freshly fallen wood, wrapping the finger-like body around branches and bark that haven’t been burnt in at least 30 years.
The species is suspected to be a fungal parasite, meaning that, even if spores find a decent branch to live on, they still need a host for feeding, particularly a fungus of the Hymenochaete family, which can decompose and eat the wood in a manner that the tea-tree fingers can’t.
Unfortunately, intense bushfires and human interference on the mainland impacted many of the possible substrates, putting a severe question mark on the species’ future.