The Wildlife Wheel has been there, in the corner of Sheepfield, for almost twenty years. It has aged in those years, changed colour, split and grown a fascinating crop of lichens.
A lichen is not an individual organism; it is an association between a fungus and an alga and/or a cyanobacterium. The algae and cyanobacteria benefit from the structure provided by the fungi; they are protected and held out in the light where they can photosynthesise. The fungi feed on the carbohydrates produced by this photosynthesis.
The more we learn about fungi, the more clearly we see how often they live in symbiotic relationships with other species. The fly agaric photographed in the park a couple of weeks ago is the fruiting body of a mycorrhizal species growing in a symbiotic relationship with the goat willow it was found under.
The WWF’s report that we have wiped out 60% of the planet’s animals in the past 50 years is truly terrifying but, if we know so little of the complex interrelationships that support an English copse, is it really surprising that our ignorance is now killing whole species.
Photographs by Mike Humphries and SMH