CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Fungi of Australia: Inocybaceae

By P. Brandon Matheny & Neale L. Bougher

2017; Australian Biological Resources Study and CSIRO Publishing
Distributor in the Americas: Stylus Publishing
ISBN 978-1-4863-0666-4
(hardback; viii + 582 pages)
AU $240.00 / $179.95 from Stylus

Inocybes typically are dismissed as being “just LBMs” (Little Brown Mushrooms) and, with an occasional exception (for example, the Inocybe lilacina group), certainly they are small and brown. But take a peek through the microscope and one finds that they definitely are cool, featuring some of the most wonderful spore shapes and crystal studded cystidia in the mushroom world. Add to that their ecological importance as ectomycorrhizal symbionts and these LBMs become subjects worthy of much wider interest.

In 1973, Australia’s Commonwealth Government established the Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS) to document what plants and animals there are in Australia and where they occur. The ABRS brings together the expertise of scientists from around Australia and overseas, to prepare and publish authoritative information about Australia’s flora and fauna (and, although not acknowledged in the promo blurb, its mycota). This is the eighth volume dedicated to fungi, following four introductory volumes, and monographs on the Hygrophoraceae, the genus Septoria, and smuts. Of the estimated 250,000 species of fungi in Australia only about 5% have been described. The ABRS program provides a major impetus for research on the other 95%.

And that is how this book came to be. Brandon Matheny is a professor at the University of Tennessee, occupying the position famously held for over half a century by mycological legends L.R. Hesler and Ron Petersen. He is well known for his work on the phylogeny of the fungi, especially the aricomycotina, and many would say he is the world’s foremost authority on the mushroom family, Inocybaceae, which most of us would recognize as the genus, Inocybe. Neale Bougher, of the Western Australian Herbarium, is one of Australia’s best-known mycologists. He has wide-ranging interests, and some may recognize him as co-author, with Katrina Syme, of the beautifully illustrated, Fungi of Southern Australia.

The research on Australian Inocybaceae that led to this monograph was begun by Bougher and co-workers in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2001 and 2009–2013, he was joined by Matheny for collecting trips to various parts of the country. At the time they began working on the project, about 60 Inocybe species had been recorded in Australia. Their review of those records led them to conclude that there were many synonyms and a few non-Inocybes among the 60 names so that they represented only 17 accepted species. Thus, the 137 species (101 new to science) presented in this book represent roughly an 800% increase in the knowledge of these mushrooms, with perhaps another 70 species ultimately to be described. Ninety percent (121) of these are, so far at least, found only in Australia.

As elsewhere, the family Inocybaceae in Australia corresponds to what most of us are used to calling the genus, Inocybe. However, after much study, Matheny felt that sufficient diversity existed to merit family level for the group, as proposed by Walter Jülich in 1982. Now, about the book …

The front matter includes lists of Authors, Illustrator, Photographers, Keys, and Phylograms (a.k.a. “phylogenetic trees”), with the Acknowledgements section in the middle. The lengthy Introduction covers a wide range of subjects, including what the fungi in Inocybaceae are and how they can be recognized, a summary of their occurrence in Australia, History of the Family, Similar Genera, Ecology, History of the Study of Australian Inocybaceae, Biogeography of the group, a very useful (everywhere, despite the title, Studying Australian Inocybaceae) discussion of the morphological (macro and micro) and biochemical characters used to study the group and, finally, the specific Methods the authors used, including phylogenetic analyses and their basis for recognizing species.

The bulk of the book is in the simplytitled section, Inocybaceae, more on that below.

The presentation wraps up with three appendices: List of New Taxa, Excluded and Doubtful Taxa, and Table of DNA Sequences Used in this Study; Glossary; Bibliography; Abbreviations and Contractions; Publication Dates of Previous Volumes of Fungi of Australia; and the Index.

Phylogenetic studies provide support for the recognition of seven main monophyletic groups (a.k.a. “clades,” which represent seven existing or likely future genera) within Inocybaceae (Inocybe sensu stricto, Nothocybe, Pseudosperma, Inosperma, Auritella, Tubariomyces, and Mallocybe), of which six (no Nothocybe) are known to have members in Australia, making it one of the major centers of diversity for the family. The main section provides detailed descriptions for the 137 species, complemented with identification keys and phylograms, the latter based predominantly on DNA sequences generated by the authors. The descriptions include each species’ MycoBank number, information concerning the type collection, macro features, micro features, distribution and fruiting time, information on the specimens examined, meaning of the specific epithet, key diagnostic features, and commentary. They are comprehensive and written with technical language as is typical for a professional monograph. The text is augmented with high-quality line drawings of microscopic features and nearly all species also include at least one color photo, usually two or three.

There are seven keys — one to the six major clades (or genera) in Australia, and one-each to the species in each of the six clades. All the keys are very simple, with most leads including only one or a few characters, which often include microscopic ones, most often spore size.

The excellent line-drawings all were done by Bougher. They are presented on full pages and show spores, basidia, cheilocystidia, pleurocystidia (when present), caulocystidia (when present), and, for some, pileipellis or velipellis hyphae. The photos are a mix of field and lab shots. In most cases, I found the field photos to be more useful, as they appear to show color more accurately. In part, this is due to there being less contrast between the fruitbodies and their surroundings than typically is the case in the lab setups. As a result, they tend to show detail, such as the surface texture of the cap, more clearly. Many of the lab photos are too dark (either underexposed or a printing artifact) to show the details and some have unnatural color casts. Most of the field photos would have been improved by a bit of fill flash or judicious use of a reflector to eliminate shadows on the upper stipe and gills of many of the specimens.

If one is an Aussie and has an interest in Inocybes in particular or in identifying most of the fungi you encounter, this is a must-have book, despite the high price. Unfortunately, the fact that, as far as is known, most of the species are found only in Australia will greatly reduce the potential audience. The up-front general sections about the family (or genus, if you prefer) would be very useful wherever (despite the overuse of “Australian” in front of seemingly every “Inocybaceae”), but the price is likely to dissuade most folks from buying the book primarily for that small portion of it. Matheny is continuing to study the North American species and, although it might be too much to hope for a comparable volume covering our Inocybes, we can encourage him, and others with an interest in the family to share the information through outlets such as his fledgling website,

— Review by Steve Trudell
— Originally published in Fungi