iNaturalist project – Frequently Asked Questions

If you are not yet a member of the Fungimap Australia project on iNaturalist, visit https://inaturalist.ala.org.au/projects/fungimap-australia and click on “Join this project” on the upper right of the page.

Top 6 most Frequently Asked Questions about our project:

Do I need to know the ID before uploading each new fungus observation?
No! But it helps to make at least a preliminary identification to a group of fungi or a genus. If you are starting out with learning your local fungi, it’s best if you are able to consult identification guides for your area or go on forays with your local fungal studies group. Sometimes the IDs suggested by iNaturalist using visual similarity can be helpful, but it may direct you to species not even present in Australia or which are extremely rare and unlikely to be correct. Once you have an idea of the genus or family or your best guess at the species name, upload the observation with a suggested ID. It is much more likely to be verified by an expert if you have already done some identification work.

Having said that, it’s still better to put the photo/observation up even without an ID, than to not put it up at all (but just make sure they are identified as “Fungi”). The more location-specific data and photos that iNaturalist receives, the more machine learning will happen so in the future those photos may be much more readily identified. Anything on iNaturalist is also able to be used for research, so a sighting may be followed up later once it becomes relevant to a researcher.

Why has my observation not been verified and promoted to Research Grade?
So many reasons! It could be:
– The quality of the photo makes it hard to identify
– The photo does not show enough features to enable identification (it’s useful if the photo can include a visual of the gills/pores underneath the cap, whether it has a ring on the stem, what kind of base it has, something demonstrating relative size etc).
– Some species require further research to be able to identify them – such as getting a spore print or doing DNA analysis
– There are very few professional mycologists in Australia and people who have the technical expertise to verify observations
– It can be hard for our experts to keep up with the volume of observations coming in at peak times
– Only about 25% of larger fungi species in Australia have been named and described in science, so you may have found a new one!

What does it mean when an observation goes to “Research Grade”?
This means that two people have verified the observation. We only encourage those who are fungi experts to verify other people’s observations so that we can get the best data quality possible (which means there are not many people in Australia who can verify IDs). Once you are familiar with some species, it is okay to verify observations, as long as you can see relevant features in the images and are sure of the identification. Research Grade observations are regularly exported to the Atlas of Living Australia (https://www.ala.org.au) and can be used for research along with other datasets for fungi such as those derived from fungarium records.

Do you only want observations of the 100 target species featured in Fungi Down Under?
No! The target species were selected in the 1990s as easily identifiable macro-fungi, most of which are widely found across the country, to get early data on the distribution patterns of Australian fungi which up until that time had not been studied in a comprehensive way. We are currently preparing Fungi Down Under 2, which has another 100 target species, again to get extensive data on a few species that are easy to identify for citizen scientists. We still strongly encourage people to upload observations of our target species, which will enable us to track how populations are changing over time and notify of species reductions/losses etc, however we encourage any fungi species seen to be included in our iNaturalist project.

Why does the Fungimap Australia iNaturalist project ask for additional information?
You can add an observation in iNaturalist to the Fungimap Australia project at the time you add the original observation, or later. When you add an observation to Fungimap Australia, a screen pops up with a few additional questions about the habitat (what sort of vegetation and what are the associated plants) and the substrate (is it on the ground, on wood, on dung, etc.). If you make a collection, there is also a field for adding information about the collection (note that most observations are not supported by collections, and collecting is a specialised activity best done with support from your local fungal studies group). The additional information on habitat and substrate value adds to the locality information, and is useful in determining specific requirements, especially for rare and endangered fungi.

What is the purpose of collecting all this fungi data?
In a nutshell, we can only protect what we understand. We know that fungi underpin the health of all of our ecosystems, yet they are the least understood and researched kingdom. They face threats to biodiversity such as habitat loss, climate change, invasive species, contaminated soils, and fire, just like flora and fauna, yet are virtually absent from the national conservation agenda. Contributing your records helps us better understand Australian fungi so we can track how biodiversity is changing over time, monitor populations, see if exotic fungi species are displacing native fungi, and better understand emerging threats. 

As an example, Fungimap data (collected by citizen scientists) was used in the 2019 IUCN Red-Listing assessments, which decided upon Australian species to add to the global Red List of Threatened Species. The 12 species added range from Critically Endangered to Vulnerable to Least Concern. The species at greatest risk of extinction, Hypocreopsis amplectens (Tea-tree Fingers), now has its own conservation program with a funded worker. Without data we would not have even known these species were threatened. 

For more information on the origins and purposes of Fungimap and our citizen science data, watch our recent webinar featuring founder Tom May: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHi60N6AbSc 

Fungimap is recognised as one of Australia’s most successful citizen science initiatives, and we couldn’t do it without you!