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Open Access Bioluminescence in the ghost fungus Omphalotus nidiformis does not attract potential spore dispersing insects

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Bioluminescence has been known from fungi since ancient times, but little work has been done to establish its potential role. There is evidence that some bioluminescent fungi differentially attract potential spore-dispersing insects, and we aimed to establish if this was the case for the ghost fungus, Omphalotus nidiformis (Agaricales, Marasmiaceae), a widespread Australian temperate zone species. We examined three corroborative lines of evidence: circadian rhythmicity of bioluminescence; field-recorded insect abundance at the time of basidiome production; and attractiveness of glowing fungi to flying insects. Basidiomes glowed continuously day and night, and were present in winter (June-July) when insect abundance was low. To assess attractiveness, we deployed sticky-traps in open woodland in the absence of light pollution, in Treatment (baited with fresh bioluminescent O. nidiformis) and Control pairs, for 480 trap-hours on moonless nights. There was no statistical difference in mean insect abundance between Treatment and Control traps (mean 0.33 and 0.54 individuals per trap night, respectively). To interpret these results, we provide a brief review of competing hypotheses for fungal bioluminescence, and conclude that for some fungi, bioluminescence may be an incidental by-product of metabolism rather than conferring any selective advantage. It is possible that the role of bioluminescence differs among evolutionary lineages of fungi and/or with attributes of their growth environments that could affect spore dispersal, such as wind and insect abundance.

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Keywords: AGARICALES; FUNGAL PHYSIOLOGY; INSECT-FUNGAL INTERACTIONS; KANGAROO ISLAND; SPORE DISPERSAL

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 December 2016

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  • Scope: All aspects of pure and applied mycological research and news.
    Aims: The flagship journal of the International Mycological Association. IMA Fungus is an international, peer-reviewed, open-access, full colour, fast-track journal. Papers on any aspect of mycology are considered, and published on-line with final pagination after proofs have been corrected; they are then effectively published under the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants. The journal strongly supports good practice policies, and requires voucher specimens or cultures to be deposited in a public collection with an online database, DNA sequences in GenBank, alignments in TreeBASE, and validating information on new scientific names, including typifications, to be lodged in MycoBank. News, meeting reports, personalia, research news, correspondence, book news, and information on forthcoming international meetings are included in each issue.

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