Camillea leprieurii is a fungus dependent on rainforest trees for survival but can only be easily detected when observed growing out of dead branches.
About this species
Camillea leprieurii is familiar to mycologists surveying rainforests in South America and is strange owing to its fruiting structures taking two forms. The charcoal-stick form is the most frequently noted, which has black pencil-like structures (as seen in the image above), but this fungus also grows immersed in dead wood with only its uppermost surface visible. Tiny spores (the fungal equivalent of seeds) are ejected from the ends of the fruiting structures.
Geography & Distribution
Camillea leprieurii is widely distributed in the rainforests of South America and has been recorded from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, the Guianas (French Guiana, Guyana and Surinam), Peru and Venezuela. It has also been reported from Central America (Nicaragua, and Panamá) and the Caribbean (Puerto Rico).
Relationship with host trees
Camillea species are thought to live within healthy living trees (so are called endophytes), with their microscopic colonies lying dormant until the tree dies naturally. They are then in an ideal position to grow actively using nutrients from the dead wood, out-competing fungi without endophytic stages and thereby recycling the tree to fertilise the soil for its seedlings. The fungus and trees are thus entirely dependent on each other for survival.
Camillea leprieurii form with flat fruiting structures developing in the bark of a dead tree, Iwokrama Reserve, Guyana. (Image © Paul Cannon)
Camillea leprieurii is only visible as fruiting-structures, which develop from a complex network of microscopic filaments that grow within the dead wood and bark of the host tree.
The matt black charcoal-like fruiting-structures (‘stromata’) burst through the bark and are either cylindrical or almost flat. The elongate form measures about 10−40 mm in length and 2.5−5.0 mm in diameter and develops from a slightly broader disc on the bark surface. The end part is slightly sunken in the centre, where a cluster of tiny wine-bottle shaped cavities (ascomatal cavities), 0.2−0.4 mm in length, forms, and sexual spores (‘ascospores’) develop within these cavities.
The flattened form of fruiting body also produces sexual spores from similar cavities. Asexual spores develop in powdery grey or yellowish masses on the outside of the main fruiting structures. The sexual spores vary between 26−39 µm (i.e. about one thirtieth of a millimetre) in length and 5.0−7.5 µm in diameter. They are elongate with the base drawn into a long tail, pale yellow-brown and with a minute network of ribs on the surface.
The ascospores are formed within specialized cylindrical cells (‘asci’) that elongate and reach to the opening of the ascomatal cavity. Each of the asci produces eight spores. Pressure within the asci increases when the spores are mature, causing the end to rupture and spores to be ejected forcibly into the air.
Threats & Conservation
Camillea leprieurii is widely distributed and appears at present to be reasonably common in suitable environments. However, we know almost nothing about threats to its survival except that it is critically dependent on its primary rainforest habitat. It is not known to grow on cultivated trees, and we know nothing about its potential needs for growth in secondary forest. Suitable habitats for C. leprieurii are currently disappearing as old-growth forest is destroyed, and threats to it along with a myriad of other species of fungi are increasing at an alarming rate.
Camillea leprieurii is dependent on rainforest trees for survival. The fungus can only be detected easily when seen growing out of dead branches, but the species from which they grow have rarely been recorded. Closely related fungus species are known to be restricted to trees from a particular group (e.g. C. verruculospora with trees of Melastomataceae) and it is likely that C. leprieurii has a similarly restricted array of hosts.
Camillea leprieurii can be grown in artificial agar culture. Inoculation from cultures into suitable woody tissues (e.g. fallen branches) might be possible, but re-introduction into natural habitats has never been attempted; this may well be time-consuming and problematic.
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