Background The ascomycete fungus Podospora anserina has been appreciated for its targeted carbohydrate-active enzymatic arsenal. As a late colonizer of herbivorous dung, the fungus acts specifically on the more recalcitrant fraction of lignocellulose and this lignin-rich biotope might have resulted in the evolution of ligninolytic activities. However, the lignin-degrading abilities of the fungus have not been demonstrated by chemical analyses at the molecular level and are, thus far, solely based on genome and secretome predictions. To evaluate whether P. anserina might provide a novel source of lignin-active enzymes to tap into for potential biotechnological applications, we comprehensively mapped wheat straw lignin during fungal growth and characterized the fungal secretome. Results Quantitative 13C lignin internal standard py-GC–MS analysis showed substantial lignin removal during the 7 days of fungal growth (24% w/w), though carbohydrates were preferably targeted (58% w/w removal). Structural characterization of residual lignin by using py-GC–MS and HSQC NMR analyses demonstrated that Cα-oxidized substructures significantly increased through fungal action, while intact β-O-4′ aryl ether linkages, p-coumarate and ferulate moieties decreased, albeit to lesser extents than observed for the action of basidiomycetes. Proteomic analysis indicated that the presence of lignin induced considerable changes in the secretome of P. anserina. This was particularly reflected in a strong reduction of cellulases and galactomannanases, while H2O2-producing enzymes clearly increased. The latter enzymes, together with laccases, were likely involved in the observed ligninolysis. Conclusions For the first time, we provide unambiguous evidence for the ligninolytic activity of the ascomycete fungus P. anserina and expand the view on its enzymatic repertoire beyond carbohydrate degradation. Our results can be of significance for the development of biological lignin conversion technologies by contributing to the quest for novel lignin-active enzymes and organisms.