The current state of conservation of fungi.
Our conservation campaigns.
Fostering good fungal habitat.
There is no doubt that fungi play a crucial role in life on earth. Biodiversity means nothing without fungi. Here’s what the International Union on Conservation of Nature says:
Fungi are extremely important to humans. The antibiotic Penicillin was derived from the fungus Penicillium and its discovery revolutionized medical treatment. Indeed most antibiotics and statins are fungal in origin. Fungi are also needed to make bread, beer, wine, cheese and many other foods. The ecological and economic importance of fungi is huge and the conservation of this group is essential to the maintenance of healthy ecosystems and our quality of life.
Many fungi species are threatened by habitat loss, loss of symbiotic hosts, pollution, overexploitation, and climate change, but the vast majority of fungal species have not yet been assessed for The IUCN Red List. The Global Fungal Red List Initiative aims to facilitate and coordinate a concerted effort by the global mycological community to get at least 300 species of threatened fungi assessed and classified.
Federal and state government laws are in place to protect rare and vulnerable species but fungi have largely been ignored and only a handful are afforded protection. See ‘How well are fungi conserved?’ here for more on this.
There are a few reasons for this lack of protection:
- The crucial roles played by fungi in the environment are barely known outside the small number of mycologists, fungi enthusiasts and well-informed environment groups.
- There are no undergraduate courses in mycology in Australia and courses in ecology and biology largely ignore fungi and their beneficial role, thus perpetuating this ignorance and severely limiting the number of scientists with an understanding of mycology.
- By far the largest investment in fungal research in recent decades has been into species that are pests of agricultural and horticultural monocultures and human or animal pathogens. See here for instance the Melbourne University’s School of Biosciences Mycology Laboratory summary of its work.
- Conservation programs tend to focus on species recovery and rarely recognise the interrelationships of plants, animals and fungi.
- Fungi are usually included in the definition of plants in State conservation legislation.
The Federal Government’s State of the Environment reports note that 75% of all Australian native species are undiscovered or undescribed. Fungi (and insects) are hugely overrepresented in this lack of knowledge.
Our conservation campaigns
We make submissions to governments calling for recognition of the importance of fungi and more investment in the science of mycology. A small but important win in late 2017 was for the Commonwealth Government to specifically include fungi in its definition of biodiversity! (The draft 2018-2030 Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and Action Inventory is however an overall weakening of the previous strategy.)
We provide education and advice through our website and social media and publicise workshops and fungi forays.
Our work with citizen scientists around Australia has amassed over 100,000 records of fungi from every state – just a start in the job of mapping that is so essential to conservation.
Tea-tree Fingers project
Hypocreopsis amplectens – Tea-tree Fingers is the only fungus listed under the Victorian Flora & Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 and is considered “vulnerable”. It was only discovered in 1992 at Nyora, Vic. during a survey of plants.
Recent surveys suggest it has disappeared from two of the three known locations on the Mornington Peninsula and Gippsland, Victoria. We were funded by the Victorian State Government to find out where it lives and to map the species so that an action plan can be developed for its survival and recovery. It may also warrant inclusion on national threat status lists in Australia and New Zealand. See more here.
Fostering good fungal habitat
Habitat loss is for fungi, as it is for plants and animals, the main cause of stress on numbers and diversity. And since fungi have no chlorophyll with which to make sugars, it stands to reason that they will not survive the loss of symbiotic partners that supply it. So if vegetation is cleared, fungi are also lost.
Farmers are encouraged to increase native vegetation on their properties and, if these areas are ‘nature-linked’ and fenced off from animals, fungi are more likely to survive. Less disturbance of soil and fewer fertilisers, pesticides, weedicides and fungicides – all of which damage fungi to varying degrees – will also assist.
This applies in parks and gardens too. ‘Manicured’ garden beds, vast stretches of lawn and exotic plants are rarely good habitat for native fungi.
Most fungi like agarics are saprotrophs meaning they get their sugars and other nutrients by breaking down dead organic material so leaving fallen logs on the ground encourages these fungi whilst also providing habitat for animals and microbes.
Our knowledge about the effects of pollutants, bushfires and extreme weather events on fungi is negligible.
Although they can survive in deserts, the growth of fungi is for most species dependent on rainfall. Climate change scientists predict an increase in temperature and reduction in rainfall over the foreseeable future in every state of Australia and it can reasonably be inferred that this will have a significant impact on fungi and its distribution, hence the need for mapping and the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.