Ecology and reestablishment of heart-rot fungi in native beech and oak


Main supervisor: Dr Hilary J Rogers
Co-supervisor(s): Prof Lynne Boddy (Cardiff University)

Project enquiries

Contact number: 029 208 76352

Host institution: Cardiff University

CASE Partner: Crown Estates Windsor

Project description

In living trees, most decay occurs in the heartwood (termed heart-rot). Heart-rot provides habitat for saproxylic invertebrates (including rare species e.g. Limoniscus violaceus), some vertebrates, and fungi, including several rare or endangered species, e.g. Hericium coralloides and H. erinaceus on beech (Fagus sylvatica), and Piptoporus quercinus (= Buglossoporus quercinus) on oak (Quercus spp.). Three previous successful CASE studentships have revealed the main features of the basic autecology of these fungi1, and the main patterns of heart rot decay in beech [2]. However, the population size (including how many trees contain these fungi, how many genets per tree, and other details required for IUCN Red-Listing) in the UK is unknown, though fruit body presence suggests that Windsor Great Park is the world stronghold for P. quercinus and that Hericium spp. are found in areas of historically continuous forested areas. We have obtained basic information on the mating genetics of these three species [1] but little else is known about their population biology. Further, little is known about heart-rot of oak. Heart-rot is environmentally essential, and although there are currently old heart-rotted oaks and beeches, because of recent forestry practices in the UK there will be an age gap with this habitat largely missing.

The objectives of this project are to: (1) determine the size of populations (of mycelia rather than fruit bodies) of the rare fungi P. quercinum, H. coralloides and H erinaceus, in accord with IUCN Red-Listing: and to better understand their population biology;
(2) determine fungal community structure and development in heart-rot of oak; and
(3) induce heart-rot by these and other species in beech and oak stands in Protected Sites with declining numbers of ancient hollow trees.

This work will directly assist with the conservation of these red-listed fungal taxa by addressing the Section 41 action in common for all three species: Advance understanding of autecology and habitat requirements through scientific study. The project will thus contribute to Outcome 3 of Biodiversity 2020 (England’s biodiversity strategy).

Population sizes will be determined by making isolations from trees and then employing somatic incompatibility tests to determine the number of individuals of Hericium spp., and molecular approaches for P. quercinus, which appears to be clonal – appropriate molecular tools e.g. microsatellites will be developed to look at its population structure. Fungal community composition will be determined by traditional isolation and environmental sequencing using from trees with different types/extent of decay, from fully functional to completely hollow. Fungi will be inoculated into undecayed trees and development followed non-destructively by 3D tomography and, after 2.5 years, destructively by coring and/or felling. Laboratory experiments will investigate fungal interactions, and wood colonisation rates.


[1] Boddy L , Crockatt ME, Ainsworth AM (2011). Ecology of Hericium cirrhatum, H. coralloides and H. erinaceus in the UK. Fungal Ecology 4, 163-173.
[2] Boddy L, Hiscox J, Gilmartin EC, Johnston S, Heilmann-Clausen J (2017) Decay communities in angiosperm wood. In The Fungal Community (ed J Dighton et al.) Taylor & Francis
[3] Crockatt, M.E., Campbell, A.W., Allum, L.C., Ainsworth, A.M., Boddy, L. (2010) The rare oak polypore Piptoporus quercinus: mating systems, spore germination and diversity of the UK population. Fungal Ecology 3, 94-106.
[4] Parfitt, D., Hynes, J., Rogers, H. and Boddy, L. (2005) New PCR assay detects rare tooth fungi in wood where traditional approaches fail, Mycological Research, 109, 1187-1194.

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