Mycophagy in small mammals: A comparison of the occurrence and diversity of hypogeal fungi in the diet of the long-nosed potoroo Potorous tridactylus and the bush rat Rattus fuscipes from southwestern Victoria, Australia

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Abstract

Abstract Three broad dietary categories—fungus, plant and arthropod—were identified from faecal samples of two species of small terrestrial mammal in forest vegetation in southwestern Victoria. Fungal material formed the major component of the diet of the long-nosed potoroo Potorous tridactylus throughout the year and of the bush rat Rattus fuscipes during autumn and winter. Fungal material was most abundant for both species during autumn and winter and significantly less common in spring and summer. These results confirm previous studies which found P. tridactylus to be highly mycophagous throughout the year and R. fuscipes to be strongly mycophagous seasonally. Particular consideration was given to the composition of fungi in the diet. Fungal spores in faecal material were assigned to spore classes, which represent one or more fungal species that have similar spore morphology. Twenty-four fungal spore classes were recorded, but for both animal species most of the fungi consumed were from seven major spore classes. The proportions of major spore classes in the diet of both animals were generally similar, even though the composition of spore classes differed markedly across seasons. Minor differences between species in the fungi consumed may be related to differences in selectivity, foraging, or microhabitat use. If fungal resources are limiting, competition for such resources may be important in this and other small mammal communities. The amount and diversity of hypogeal fungi consumed by the two animal species makes them both important spore dispersal agents in forest ecosystems. The capacity of R. fuscipes and other seasonally mycophagous mammals in this role may be more important than previously recognized, especially in habitats where species of the Potoroidae are absent.

Ancillary