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Leratiomyces erythrocephalus
Photo credit: David Orlovich

Leratiomyces erythrocephalus

Leratiomyces is a genus of saprotrophic fungi in the family Strophariaceae. Leratiomyces species are commonly found growing on woodchips around garden beds and exhibit either a mushroom or truffle-like morphology. One of the most conspicuous species of truffle-like fungi in New Zealand is the endemic L. erythrocephalus, also known as the scarlet pouch or red pouch fungus. As well as growing in garden beds, this fungus is regularly found growing in native bush.

Saprotrophic fungi are an essential element in the global carbon cycle. They contain an array of enzymes allowing the breakdown of biopolymers. Discovering novel enzymes involved in the degradation of biopolymers may enable access to previously recalcitrant energy stocks.

Truffle-like fungi are fungi that have a closed hymenium and are unable to actively release their spores to the environment. The evolution of the truffle-like habit is thought to be a response to past climatic changes and animal grazing. The relatively high abundance of brightly coloured, epigeous truffle-like fungi in New Zealand has led to the hypothesis that that large grazing birds, like moa, may have selected for this morphology. The repeated, independent evolution of truffle-like fungi from mushroom-like ancestors has interested mycologists since these relationships became apparent.

Leratiomyces erythrocephalus is sister to the cosmopolitan L. ceres, which has a typical mushroom morphology. Comparisons of the genomes and transcriptomes from L. erythrocephalus and L. ceres will help to reveal the molecular mechanisms involved in the evolutionary transition from a mushroom to a truffle-like fungus.