20 Jul 2019

'Non-charismatic' fungi's future under threat

4:09 pm on 20 July 2019

Fungi may not be "cute and cuddly", but rare species should still be protected from extinction, a research scientist says.

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Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research mycologist Peter Buchanan wants endangered fungi to be protected. Photo: Supplied

Landcare Research scientist Peter Buchanan, a mycologist or fungi expert, has helped organise the first workshop to get Australasia's most endangered fungi on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's red list of threatened species.

"Humanity has a temptation to over-value and prioritise conservation of the colourful, cute and cuddly, and ignore other less charismatic forms of life," Dr Buchanan said.

"Yet life on this planet cannot exist without the so-called 'non-charismatic majority of biodiversity.' "

The workshop, held in Melbourne next week, will examine about 100 species of fungi from New Zealand, Australia and New Caledonia, and evaluate their chances of survival to see if they belong on the red list.

Dr Buchanan said making it onto the red list would give fungi a better chance of survival.

"Getting the fungi onto the list will mean global as well as New Zealand and Australian recognition from the government and public that we need to value and conserve our fungi as well as our plants and animals."

Until 2014, only three species of fungi were on the red list, despite fungi being "the second largest kingdom of life after the animal kingdom".

In comparison, 10,570 plants and an even larger number of animal species are on the list.

In about 2010, several mycologists decided to raise awareness that a variety of fungi are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss, pollution, over-harvesting and global warming - the same factors that affect the survival of other plants and animals.

Dr Buchanan said the rarity of fungi was challenging to assess because they could be invisible beneath soil, wood, or leaves when in their feeding stage.

"We typically only notice them when they reproduce and we see their fruiting bodies, including mushrooms, brackets, puffballs, or smaller fruiting bodies within spots on leaves."

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