The oldest existing specimen of an Australian smut fungus was made inadvertently by the English botanist Robert Brown (1773–1858) when he collected the sedge Cyperus lucidus R.Br. at Port Jackson, New South Wales in 1802–1805. More than 150 years later some of the specimens were observed to have abnormal nuts (Walker, 1971), which lead to the discovery and description of Ustilago cyperi-lucidi J.Walker [= Bauerago cyperi-lucidi (J.Walker) Vánky].
Another early Australian specimen was found on Aristida vagans collected in New South Wales during the visit of the United States Exploring Expedition (1838–1842). Duplicates of this smut [= Sporisorium fraserianum (Syd.) Vánky] are housed in BPI and DAR. The first smut fungus named from Australia was Uredo restionum Nees [= Restiosporium restionum (Nees) Vánky], which was based on material collected by the German botanical collector Johann August Ludwig Preiss (1811–1883) near Perth, Western Australia in 1839.
The renowned Australian botanist Ferdinand von Mueller (1825–1896) also collected smut fungi which he sent to the British mycologists the Rev. Miles Joseph Berkeley (1803–1889) and Mordecai Cubitt Cooke (1825–1914) and to the German mycologist Felix von Thümen (1839–1892). Several new species were described based on these specimens, viz. Ustilago muelleriana Thüm. [= Heterotolyposporium piluliforme (Berk.) Vánky], Sorosporium muellerianum Thüm. [= Moreaua muelleriana (Thüm.) Vánky], Thecaphora leptocarpi Berk. [= Restiosporium leptocarpi (Berk.) Vánky] and Ustilago confusa Massee [= Sporisorium chamaeraphis (Syd.) Vánky]. Mueller was known to have sent parts of the same collection to his various European collaborators, thus causing some confusion (May & Pascoe, 1996). This was true of a smut fungus on Eriachne sp. [= Macalpinomyces eriachnes (Thüm.) Langdon & Full.], which resulted in the description of two taxa, Sorosporium eriachnis Thüm. and Ustilago australis Cooke, based on parts of the same collection and appearing in the literature in 1878 and 1879, respectively.
Another important botanist and early collector of mycological specimens was Frederick Manson Bailey (1827–1915) who sent material to the British mycologists Christopher Broome (1812–1886), Berkeley, Cooke and George Massee (1850–1917). These specimens included two smut fungi later described as Entyloma eugeniarum Cooke & Massee (it actually represents an undetermined ascomycete) and Thecaphora globuligera Berk. & Broome [= Moesziomyces bullatus (J.Schröt.) Vánky].
The botanist Johann Gottlieb Otto Tepper (1841–1923) collected specimens of smut fungi in South Australia and sent them to the German mycologist Friedrich Ludwig (1851–1918). This resulted in the description of Ustilago catenata [= Farysia catenata (F.Ludw.) Syd.], U. comburens F.Ludw., U. spinificis F.Ludw. and U. tepperi F.Ludw.
Felix M. Reader (1850–1911) was another profilic collector of plants and mycological specimens, including smut fungi. Reader was also a pharmacist who had a business in Dimboola, Victoria where he made many of his collections. He sent material to several European mycologists, including Georg Heinrich Winter (1848–1887), who described Doassansia punctiformis G.Winter [= Heterodoassansia punctiformis (G.Winter) Vánky], from Reader’s collection. Reader’s specimens also included the types for two of McAlpine’s species, Tolyposporium lepidospermae McAlpine [= Moreaua lepidospermatis (McAlpine) Vánky] and T. lepidoboli McAlpine [= Restiosporium lepidoboli (McAlpine) Vánky].
The dentist and botanist Leonard R. Rodway (1853–1936) collected several specimens of smut fungi in Tasmania which he sent to Massee, both men subsequently describing Ustilago microspora Massee & Rodway [= Ustilago comburens F.Ludw.]. McAlpine (1910) acknowledged Rodway by naming Tolyposporium rodwayi McAlpine [= Moreaua rodwayi (McAlpine) Vánky] in his honour.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the most comprehensive list of Australasian fungi, including the smut fungi, was Cooke’s (1892) Handbook of Australian Fungi. This work listed 25 species of smut fungi from Australia and two from New Zealand.
Daniel McAlpine (1849–1932) migrated to Australia from Scotland in 1884 and produced several monographs on Australian plant diseases and plant pathogens, including The Smuts of Australia (McAlpine, 1910). His treatment documented all that was known about Australian smut fungi and, until now, it remained the only detailed account. In The Smuts of Australia, McAlpine listed 68 taxa, including 14 new species and 11 new combinations. His enormous contribution to the knowledge of Australian smut fungi appears to have been made in a relatively brief period of sixteen years (1895–1911) towards the end of his career, during which he named all of his 14 new taxa. The smut genus Macalpinomyces was established by Langdon & Fullerton (1977) to acknowledge McAlpine’s contribution to the study of Australian smut fungi.
In 1913, shortly after McAlpine’s treatment was published, Ewen Mackinnon, an entomologist in New South Wales described two new smut fungi, Sorosporium panici and Ustilago panici-gracilis. These are now recognised as being conspecific [= Sporisorium panici (E.Mackinnon) Vánky].
John Burton Cleland (1878–1971) is best known for his contribution to the study of Australian macrofungi. However, Cleland was also a collector of microfungi, including smuts, mostly from South Australia. Two of Cleland’s collections were described as new species by the German mycologist Hans Sydow (1879–1946), viz. Ustilago altilis Syd. and Ustilago clelandii Syd. [= Sporisorium panici (E.Mackinnon) Vánky].
Lillian Ross Fraser (1909–1987) made many collections of smut fungi while working as a plant pathologist for the New South Wales Department of Agriculture. Her specimens have provided types for five species described by Sydow: Sphacelotheca mutabilis Syd. [= Sporisorium mutabile (Syd.) Vánky], Sorosporium polycarpum Syd. [= Sporisorium polycarpum (Syd.) Vánky], Ustilago serena Syd., Ustilago valentula Syd. and Sorosporium fraserianum Syd. [= Sporisorium fraserianum (Syd.) Vánky]. Two further new species, Entyloma arctotis Vánky and Sporisorium lingii Vánky, were recently found among Fraser’s collections.
The Queensland botanist Stanley T. Blake (1911–1973) specialised in the taxonomy of tropical and subtropical grasses and sedges. He made many collections of smut-infected plants including the types of Ustilago sorghi-stipoidei L.Ling [= Macalpinomyces ewartii (McAlpine) Vánky & R.G.Shivas], Sporisorium blakeanum Vánky, Cintractia iseilematis D.A.Herbert [= Sporisorium mitchellii (Syd. & P.Syd.) Vánky], Cintractia eremochloae Langdon [= Sporisorium polycarpum (Syd.) Vánky], Ustilago lepturi-xerophili Vánky, Ustilago porosa Langdon and Ustilago radulans Vánky.
Dorothy E. Shaw (1920–2007), an Australian plant pathologist who spent most of her working life in Queensland and Papua New Guinea, described Tolyposporium restifaciens D.E.Shaw [= Fulvisporium restifaciens (D.E.Shaw) Vánky] early in her career while working at the University of Sydney. Peter Kenneth Latz (1941–), a botanist from the Northern Territory, has collected many interesting specimens from central Australia, including two new species, Ustilago latzii Vánky and U. neurachnis Vánky.
Raymond Forbes Newton Langdon (1916–), a mycologist at the University of Queensland from 1940 to 1981, collected and described several new species of Australian smut fungi and significant contributions towards an understanding of their classification. Langdon & Fullerton (1977) established the new genus Macalpinomyces based on the ontogeny and morphology of the smut sorus. Subsequently, Langdon & Fullerton (1975, 1978) investigated the ontogeny and sporogenesis of the sorus in some smut fungi and concluded that the genus Sphacelotheca was valid for some smuts of Polygonaceae and that Sporisorium was available for certain smuts on Poaceae previously placed in Sphacelotheca. New species described and combinations made by Langdon include Cintractia eremochloae Langdon [= Sporisorium polycarpum (Syd.) Vánky], Macalpinomyces eriachnes (Thüm.) Langdon & Full., Sporisorium amphilophis (Syd.) Langdon & Full. [= S. tenue (Syd. & P.Syd.) Vánky], S. doidgeae (Zundel) Langdon & Full., S. reilianum (J.G.Kühn) Langdon & Full., S. vanderystii (Henn.) Langdon & Full., Tilletia nigrifaciens Langdon & Boughton, Tolyposporium paspali Langdon [= Moesziomyces bullatus (J.Schröt.) Vánky] and Ustilago porosa Langdon. Vánky (1994) acknowledged Langdon’s significant contribution to the study of Australian smut fungi by naming Sporisorium langdonii Vánky.
John Walker (1930–) was a mycologist at the New South Wales Department of Agriculture and is widely recognised as the major influence on fungal taxonomy in Australia for most of the second half of the twentieth century (May & Pascoe, 1996). Walker (2001) established the new genus Yelsemia and has described several new species of smut fungi including Entorrhiza seminarii J.Walker, Sporisorium simile R.G.Shivas & J.Walker,Tilletia palpera J.Walker & Vánky, Ustilago cyperi-lucidi J.Walker [= Bauerago cyperi-lucidi (J.Walker) Vánky] and Yelsemia arthropodii J.Walker. Two species, Sporisorium walkeri Vánkyand Tilletia walkeri Castlebury & Carris, have been named in Walker’s honour.
Greg C. Kirby (1946–), a biologist at Flinders University in South Australia, collected smut fungi on many native and introduced grasses in the 1980s. Kirby also investigated variation in Ustilago bullata (Kirby, 1982; Kirby & Mulley, 1982), examined the population biology of U. spinificis (Kirby, 1988) and studied dsRNA viruses in some Australian smut fungi (Francki & Kirby, 1991).
Andrew Arthur Mitchell (1949–), a botanist based in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, collected many specimens of rare smut fungi on native grasses and sedges in northern Australia. He was acknowledged by Cintractia mitchellii Vánky, described Ustilago inaltilis Vánky & A.A.Mitchell, and discovered at least eight other new species (Sporisorium anthracoideisporum Vánky & R.G.Shivas, S. cenchri-elymoidis Vánky & R.G.Shivas, S. iseilematis-ciliati Vánky, S. paraneurachnis R.G.Shivas & Vánky, Tilletia kimberleyensis Vánky & R.G.Shivas, T. lineata R.G.Shivas & Vánky, Ustilago triodiae Vánky and U. xerochloae Vánky & R.G.Shivas). Many of Mitchell’s specimens were collected on several surveys with Roger Shivas in the 1990s when they both worked for the Western Australian Department of Agriculture as well as with Kálmán Vánky during one of his visits to Australia.
Ian Gregory Pascoe (1949–), a mycologist and curator of the Victorian Plant Disease Herbarium who retired in 2004, collected several specimens of interesting smut fungi. He made important contributions to our knowledge about the role of two agriculturally important species of Tilletia in Australia, namely T. ehrhartae (Pascoe et al., 2005b) and T. trabutii Jacz. (Pascoe et al., 2005a). James Henry Cunnington (1975–), who took over from Pascoe, applied molecular methods to taxonomic studies of some Australian smut fungi (Cunnington & Shivas, 2004; Cunnington et al., 2005). Cunnington also collaborated with Shivas and Vánky, leading to the description of Sporisorium fallax R.G.Shivas & Cunnington, Urocystis chorizandrae Cunnington, Shivas & Vánky and Ustilago lituana Shivas, Vánky & Cunnington.
Malcolm John Ryley (1953–), a plant pathologist in Queensland, has collected many smut fungi on native grasses since the 1970s when he was one of Langdon’s doctoral students. He was acknowledged by Sporisorium ryleyi Vánky & R.G.Shivas.
Kirsten Websdane completed a doctoral thesis (1992–1996) at the University of Western Australia on the smut diseases of some Restionaceae. This work resulted in the discovery of several new species, Moreaua laevigata (Websdane & Vánky) Vánky, M. melanospora (Websdane & Vánky) Vánky, M. mesomelaenae (Websdane & Vánky) Vánky, M. tricostulariae (Websdane & Vánky) Vánky, Restiosporium anarthriae Vánky and R. meneyae Vánky. The genus Websdanea was established by Vánky (1997) in recognition of Websdane’s work.
Kathy Meney completed her doctoral thesis at the University of Western Australia in 1995 on the ecology of some native Restionaceae s. lat. Both Meney and Websdane worked in the laboratory of the botanist Kingsley Dixon at Kings Park Botanic Garden, Perth. Meney discovered Moreaua cyathochaetae (Websdane & Vánky) Vánky, Restiosporium apodasmiae Vánky, R. desmocladi Vánky and R. hypolaenae Vánky. Restiosporium meneyae Vánky was named in recognition of her contribution.
The Hungarian-born and German-based mycologist Kálmán Vánky (1930–) has dominated the taxonomic study of Ustilaginomycetes for at least the past four decades. His ability to spot a smutted plant has been described as “genius” and his drawings as being of “extreme delicacy and often beauty” (Ingold, 2000). Since the early 1980s he has made several trips to Australia, often accompanied by his wife Christine Vánky, and together they have discovered many new and rare species. Kálmán Vánky has named more than 100 new species from Australia as well as four new genera.
Roger Graham Shivas (1956–), a mycologist and plant pathologist in Queensland and Western Australia, was introduced to the smut fungi as an undergraduate student of Langdon in the late 1970s. He has collected smut fungi throughout Australia resulting in the discovery and naming of more than 50 new species and three new genera. Many of these collecting trips were made together with Marjan D.E. Shivas, and their daughters Anthea J. Shivas and Gillian F. Shivas, who have each made interesting mycological discoveries.
Since the mid 1990s, Shivas and Vánky have made four collecting trips together in Australia, as well as in Papua New Guinea (Shivas et al., 2001), South Africa and Thailand (Vánky et al., 2006; Shivas et al., 2007). Their collaboration is demonstrated by 20 shared papers on the taxonomy of Australian smut fungi. During the Australian collecting trips they were often accompanied by friends and colleagues who have each contributed to the discovery of new species. Co-collectors include Dean Beasley, José Liberato, Andrew Mitchell, Malcolm Ryley, Thomas Marney, Alistair McTaggart, Ian Riley, Sue Thompson and Peter Whittle.