Book Review

An Illustrated Guide to the Coprophilous Ascomycetes of Australia

By Ann Bell
CBS Biodiversity Series No. 3
CBS-KNAW Fungal Biodiversity Centre, Utrecht, The Netherlands
ISBN 90-70351-580 (2005; spiral-bound paper; 172 pp.)
€55 from CBS-KNAW Webshop

After his retirement in 1962 from his position with the Commonwealth Mycological Institute at Kew Gardens, Major Harry Dade moved to Australia and began a study of coprophilous (dung-inhabiting) fungi that was to last until his death in 1978. His researches, which focused on the ascomycetes, produced a collection of over 2000 microscope slides and associated notebooks containing his observations, drawings, and comments. This collection was brought to the attention of Ann Bell, who had been studying the same sorts of fungi in New Zealand and she subsequently spent several years reviewing and studying Dade’s materials. This book was written as a tribute to Dade and his work and incorporates many of his comments and illustrations (including his “Dungscape” painting, which follows the title page) alongside Bell’s own observations.

Somewhat confusingly, the book is not divided into chapters—instead the sections run together, with all headings of the same style. It opens with a review of Dade’s life, focusing heavily on his retirement years in Australia. A description of Bell’s research methods follows, augmented with information on Dade’s methods where appropriate. A picture key, using black and white drawings, allows the user to determine whether a particular fungus belongs to the discomycetes, plectomycetes, or pyrenomycetes, the three groups of fungi covered by the book. The discomycetes are introduced with a colored picture key to the genera, the plectomycetes by a key to the species, and the pyrenomycetes by a black and white picture key to the genera.

Each of these main groups is discussed in general and then the included genera are described and discussed. A key to species is provided for each multi-species genus and each species is illustrated with large clear line drawings, some colored. These figures are grouped together following the text. Some species also are illustrated with color microphotographs taken by Dan Mahoney, Bell’s husband, and puzzlingly placed, along with the Dungscape, between the title page and table of contents. Text descriptions of the species are not provided. Because most of the dung ascos produce rather small fruitbodies, the keys emphasize microscopic characters. They are fairly simple, with the leads usually containing three or fewer characters, and seem likely to be easy to use.

The book concludes with an appendix containing descriptions of new species proposed by Bell, an appendix with recipes for reagents, a lengthy list of references, and an index of fungus names.

So, if you aren’t from Down Under and aren’t likely to be dealing with the dung of bandicoots, brumbies, quokkas, and wombats, should you consider adding this book to your library? If you have an interest in dung fungi, yes. The information on genera will be of use wherever you hunt dung and many of the species are quite widespread. In addition, there is much worthwhile food for thought in the philosophies of Dade and Bell that should be of interest to anyone studying fungi of whatever sorts.

— Review by Steve Trudell, Seattle, WA
— Originally published in Fungi