Fungi of Studland – Studland Student Blog

Sam Deakin

Fungi of Studland - Through space and time

Dynamic renewal is an inherent feature of the dunescape, a landscape moulded by forces both biological and non-living in a perpetual cycle of change. Among the many environmental factors that determine what and where species are present in a habitat, nutrient availability is a major factor. In this environment as elsewhere, fungi connect the different kingdoms of life as nutrient cyclers, therefore influencing the wider abundance and biodiversity of life. As well as several specialist species, the variety of habitats at Studland is home to many other fungi -there’s always something on show. Here I will take you on a brief walk across the dune system and through the seasons as I explore just a few of the many fungi that call Studland home.

Dune profile zonation

Byssonectria terrestris - the deer stalker

When/where: Most of the year, where the deer have been!

Appearing as a handful of dropped red lentils, Byssonectria terrestris makes up for its lack of a common name by having a fun-to-pronounce binomial -if you can! Rarely recorded in Britain, the fungus can be found across Studland in all seasons, especially in the heathland habitats. It specialises in metabolising litter where deer have defecated, a magnificent pop of orange fruiting bodies crowding amongst the twigs and bare ground on deer paths (hence I like the name deer stalker). As a decomposer, it functions as part of the heathland community by removing nutrients from the soil, allowing low-nutrient specialist species to survive.

An orange fungi grows on decomposing sticks and leaf litter
Deer stalker fungi at Studland

Mitrula paludosa - the Bog beacon

When/where: Spring, wooded dune slacks

The wet dune slacks of Studland are home to wet wood habitat, where the multitudes of fallen willow leaves are food for our next fungus, the bog beacon. Appearing in spring and summer as many glowing ‘beacons’ growing from decomposing leaves at the water's surface, these beacons are a warning that you are about to get very wet! These are best viewed from the trackway running through the wet woods on the way to the beach.

Bog beacon fungi in wet woods in Studland
Bog beacon fungi in wet woods in Studland

Clavaria argillacea - the Moor club fungus

When/where: Late autumn, sandy tracksides and heath with moss

The moor club fungus appears like small ghostly corals emerging from the moss in semi-fixed dunes during late autumn. A member of the club-fungus family, it is believed to have a symbiotic relationship with ericoid shrubs such as common heather. This relationship is important as it allows the fungus and plant to exchange nutrients and water in time of need. Heather is known to struggle to survive particularly hot summers when this relationship isn’t present, and so this humble fungus helps to mitigate the effects of climate change whilst preserving its own habitat.

A pale yellow fungus that grows in fingers grows out of moss on the ground
Moor club fungus found in the semi-fixed dunes at Studland

Sabuloglossum arenarium - Sandy earthtongue

When/where: Autumn-winter, on the edge of sandy tracks

Often occurring not far from the moor club fungus, the sandy earthtongue does a fantastic impression of deer droppings, sometimes appearing singly but also in small groups. It can be found in the autumn and early winter on the less disturbed margins of sandy tracks throughout the dunes. Though widespread globally, it is very rare in the UK and Studland is one of the few sites where it is found. They may be decomposers, but some authors suspect that they have a biotrophic with the surrounding vegetation - something worth further investigation!

A small black fungus grows in sandy soil
Sandy earthtongue found in the tracks of the dunes

Galerina hypnorum - Moss bell

When/where: Autumn, amongst moss on heathland

This tiny bryophilous (moss-loving) fungus, a personal favourite, has a delicate bell-shaped orange fruiting body streaked with brown. As the name suggests, it is found in association with moss, which provides it with the perfect microclimate as well as nutrients with which to grow. It is very easily overlooked, but also easily appreciated - once spotted!

Two small borwn umbrella shaped fungi grow from the moss on the ground
Moss bell founded in the fixed dunes at Studland

And the other 15,000 species

When/where: Always, everywhere

From the enigmatic pinecone fungus to the cushiony birch polypore, Studland is home to many hundreds, if not thousands, of the UK's estimated 15,000+ species of fungi, each one uniquely interacting with its environment. In addition to supporting the growth and health of the dunescape, they are also an integral part of the food web, indirectly benefitting the rare reptiles and birds that also call Studland home.

So next time you stop and see a small brown fungus peeking out of the moss, know that you aren’t just witnessing any old mushroom, but a unique character playing a big role in a special landscape.