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Vision for Australian Fungal Conservation

Fungi are the 2nd biggest Kingdom of life and we are trying to conserve the vulnerable members of this kingdom. We know this Kingdom provides vital ecosystem services not carried out by plants or animals. Fungi mediate the interactions between species and facilitate important ecosystem functions.

Australasia biodiversity is ~72% endemic. Including the fungi, this biological treasure is ours to protect. We must, therefore, integrate all fungi into current conservation actions with great urgency for the vulnerable species as well as species in threatened ecosystems.

Modern research funds needs to include all functional and phylogeny groups of organisms. Filling current knowledge gaps must be made a focus and priority for future funding.

Knowledge of Australian fungi should inform conservation actions - i.e. sufficient knowledge on fungal taxonomy, ecology, biology, biogeography and phylogeny to inform management that will allow successful conservation.

Critical Considerations

Current biodiversity and conservation of Australian Fungi

•    Fungi are 9% of Australia’s biodiversity, yet are poorly understood by modern science, with currently just 11,846 of an estimated 50,000 species even named by modern science.
•    A mere 14 species and just 1 fungal community listed under Australian state legislations and no fungi at all are listed under federal legislation.

Fungi play vital ecological roles in all Australian ecosystems:

•    Decomposer fungi are important for nutrient recycling

  • Facilitating the formation of tree hollows for housing vertebrates.

•    Fungi are food for both vertebrates and invertebrates. For example, our large numbers of native truffles are food for rare and endangered species such as Potoroos and Woylies, as well as for specialised insects.
•    Pathogenic fungi, such as rusts, smuts and galls play an important role in natural selection.
•    Mycorrhizal fungi are necessary partners for more than 90% of terrestrial plants - and seeds of our native orchids cannot germinate without the aid of a specialised fungal partner.

  • Mycorrhizas are important physical links in the ecosystem between vertebrates, invertebrates and plants.
  • Diversity is important for ecosystem health and resilience including drought tolerance.
  • Lichens capture carbon and contribute nitrogen to ecosystems, are used as an indicator to air quality, also providing habitat for micro-fauna.

•    Endophytes are present in most plant tissues, and have roles in plants avoiding some diseases and grazing by animals.

  • Some are important in stable carbon sequestration.

•    Fungal hyphae, which ramify throughout soils are important for good soil structure, water retention and nutrient availability.

Questions that need answering for science-based solutions towards the long term management of ecosystem functions:

•    What and where fungi are found in Australia?
•    Are the ranges of any species of fungi changing?
•    What is the biology and ecology of fungal species?
•    What levels and types of fungal diversity are needed for ecosystem health and function?
•    How do fungi that have critical ecosystem functions disperse and spread in the current modified Australian landscape?
•    How do current large scale management tools – such as fire - affect the fungi and the connected functioning of ecosystems?

With regard to Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-2030, these are the questions we would like to put to the Federal government:

1.    Why were fungi not referred to alongside ‘plants, animals and micro-organisms’ in the first of the three levels of biodiversity - genetic diversity (p. 7)?

2.   Does the Government consider fungi to be important in providing life-supporting ecosystem services, particularly that of soil formation and retention? If so, why is there no National Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia’s fungi?

3.    Will clear priorities be established for new investment to fill gaps and address emerging issues in conserving fungal diversity?


4.    Will strategic consideration be explicitly given to fungalconservation, through of the protection of important fungi habitats and fungal biodiversity hotspots? Will the deficiencies in legal protection for fungi identified and addressed through plans to rectify those deficiencies and threats to fungi identified, and fungi being protected?


5.    Will principal fungal habitats and roles be taken into account? Examples such as decomposer fungi including specialised coprophilous species, endophytes, freshwater fungi, species being developed to decompose man-made products – particularly pollutants, fungi on naturally occurring inanimate substrata, lichen-forming fungi, marine fungi, mycorrhizal fungi and parasitic fungi?

6.    Does the Government consider there to be gaps in our current science and knowledge of fungal biodiversity and if so, what research and education investment will be provided to fill those gaps?

7.    Will fungal diversity be a feature of the 10 National Targets established by the Strategy?

8.    Will fungal diversity be a feature of the Convention’s Aichi Strategic Goals for;

  • Addressing the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society
  • Reducing the direct pressures on biodiversity and promoting sustainable use
  • Improving the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity
  • Enhancing the benefits to all, via biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • Enhancing implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building


9.    Will the fifth National Report on progress towards implementation of the Strategic Plan and Aichi Biodiversity Targets, due 31 March 2014, include fungi?

10.     Will fungi be considered in the proposed review by 2015 of relevant legislation policies and programs?

Suggested References:

Chapman AD (2009) Numbers of living species in Australia and the world In 'http://www.environment.gov.au/search/site/Numbers of living species in Australia and the world'. (Australian Biological Resources Study, Canberra).

May TW, McMullan-Fisher SJM (2012) Don’t be afraid of the F-word: prospects for integrating fungi into biodiversity monitoring. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria 124, 79-90.

McMullan-Fisher SJM, May TW, Robinson RM, Bell TL, Lebel T, Catcheside P, York A (2011) Fungi and fire in Australian ecosystems: a review of current knowledge, management implications and future directions. Australian Journal of Botany 59, 70-90.

Minter D (2010) A future for fungi - the orphans of Rio. In 'http://www.fungal-conservation.org/blogs/orphans-of-rio.pdf'. (International Society for Fungal Conservation: Whitby, UK).

Minter D (2011) Botanists and zoologists fungal conservation needs you. In 'http://www.fungal-conservation.org/blogs/message-to-botanists-and-zoologists.pdf'. (International Society for Fungal Conservation: Whitby, UK).

Pouliot AM, May TW (2010) The third ‘F’ — fungi in Australian biodiversity conservation: actions, issues and initiatives. Mycologia Balcanica 7, 41–48.


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