Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Special issue on fungi in Philosophy Activism Nature (PAN) journal

By Alison Pouliot                              

 It's not often that fungi receive attention in academic journals in disciplines other than the sciences.  I was therefore delighted to be approached by environmental philosopher, Professor Freya Matthews from LaTrobe University who proposed a special issue on fungi for the Philosophy Activism Nature (PAN) journal.

Long-toed Salamander and Candellaria. Image: copyright  Steven David Johnson
I think back to the fungus workshop where I met Freya when she asked, "Are fungi sentient?"  Her question was a refreshing change from the more common queries, "What's this mushroom called?" and "Can I eat it?"  Admittedly, I'm rarely able to provide satisfying replies to any of these questions, but Freya's prompted possibilities to explore the many dimensions and disciplines through which we might consider fungi.

A second boon came with Dr John Ryan's offer to come on board as co-editor.  A post-doctoral research fellow at Edith Cowan University, John's background in environmental philosophy and eco-criticism along with his editing experience has made the process significantly more pleasurable and professional. 

Mycena cystidiosa with rhizomorphs. Image: Alison Pouliot
The PAN journal explores the "underpinnings of environmental thought and the discursive changes needed to shift society towards a new ecological culture of sustainability".  The journal differs from those where fungi papers are more likely to be published in that it provides a cross-disciplinary forum, exploring ideas at the interface of ecology and environmental philosophy and other disciplines through various formats including peer-reviewed scholarly papers, essays and poetry.

The special issue on fungi represents contributions from fields as diverse as mycology, lichenology, botany, poetry, philosophy, anthropology, law, fine arts, sociology, microbiology, ecology, entomology, photography, outdoor recreation, natural history and social psychology.  An impressive and dynamic mix!

Without wanting to reveal everything, themes in the special issue range from fungal diversity and conservation, to fungal spore dispersal mechanisms, interspecies ethnographies, human thrush entanglements, ecological jurisprudence, mycopoetry, to the curious habits of slime moulds and beyond.
  As far as we are aware, this is the first special issue in an Australian academic journal to bring together these broad-ranging approaches to the fungal kingdom.  As readers of the Fungimap newsletter would only be too well aware, fungi are largely overlooked in Australian biodiversity conservation.  Presenting a variety of lenses and perspectives through which to consider, or reconsider this kingdom, will hopefully inspire possibilities for new interest and audiences.  The greater the interest, the greater the chance that fungi might receive more focus in biodiversity conservation. 
Lamproderma species have iridescent peridia. Image: CC-BY-SA 3.0 Sarah Lloyd

The good news is that the PAN journal can be accessed free of charge via the Monash University repository directly via the PAN website.  PAN is distributed by Informit Press and is also available for subscription.

Personally, partaking in this project has made the already amazing fungus kingdom even more compelling.  We hope you enjoy this special issue on these very special organisms.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

How Wikipedia can help fungal conservation

The purpose of this blog post is to encourage internet-savvy people to contribute to fungal conservation!

As you may know, fungi, invertebrates, microbes and other life forms are often poorly understood, despite the word ‘biodiversity’ becoming commonplace in the last two decades. This word’s origins come from a contraction of ‘biological diversity’ (Hawksworth 1996: p. 6). This planet’s ‘biota’ are considered ‘the diversity of all living things’. The bios part comes from the Greek, meaning ‘life’.

Become a fungal conservation champion!
Sadly, biodiversity has commonly been interpreted narrowly as including only animals and plants. In earlier times life was divided into Animals and Plants but in recent times many more kingdoms have been recognised, such as in the six kingdom system that includes: Animalia, Archaea, Bacteria, Fungi, Plantae and Protista. The three larger (macroscopic) kingdoms are animals, fungi and plants. I have ordered these in decreasing order of numbers of species (based on estimates for fungi, as significantly less taxonomic work has been carried out on this kingdom). This is the same order as if listed alphabetically. Remember that animals includes the invertebrates, which are the most species rich group.

It is difficult that so many documents consider life on our planet to be just animals and plants, often referred to in biodiversity documents as fauna and flora. This leads to the unfortunate situation where anything that is not flora or fauna is simply beyond the conceptual grasp of most people, even those who ought to know better.

It is time our usage of ‘biodiversity’ improved in accuracy and inclusivity. Where we can we need to update definitions. Wikipedia is one place this can be done. I also urge you to request or insist on the accurate use of biodiversity in reports, policy documents, council plans, management plans, articles etc. A good start would be recognising biodiversity as the diversity of all living things and even better would be to recognise all Kingdoms. This might take lobbying over some time but will be worth the effort.

If you are comfortable searching the web you will surely have come across Wikipedia. This collaborative encyclopedia can be a great tool if we, the collaborators, put our best efforts into it. If we get the momentum going on the internet then hopefully dictionaries like the Oxford English Dictionary, will change their current limited definition of biodiversity to one that includes all life.

[By the way: unlike some members of partilment I would never use Wikipedia as a reference for a scientific or professional work, but I am happy to use it as a source for general and local knowledge.]

David Minter is currently the President of the
 International Society for Fungal Conservation 
and during the recent third congress of the society 
ran a workshop on how to become fungal conservation 
champions, such as by editing wikipedia entries 
(Image Lyn Allison).
If you want to know more details about why usage matters, for fungal conservation in particular, check out ISFC website.

What Wikipedia pages can you edit? If you register, you should be able to be edit most pages. You may want to protect your privacy by signing up under a ‘pen name’ or ‘avatar’.

Good places to start updating Wikipedia include country pages (look under environment or biodiversity subsections), conservation pages, your favourite ‘patch’ such as local conservation areas or national parks, regional and local government areas, etc. The list is huge, which is why I suggest we all become part time editors. Do not forget that Wikipedia is available in many languages, so you can also update or even create pages in other languages if you are proficient!

In cases where less accurate authors simply write “fauna and flora” to mean the species found in a document and you don't want to use biota or ‘animals, fungi and plants’ you could simply use ‘organism’ (this is outlined here )

Remember that 72% of Australasian macrofungi are endemic (Mueller & Schmit 2007; Mueller et al.,  2007), so they are ours to conserve. Raising awareness of the needs of fungi for conservation are important. I hope we can increase the understanding of our region’s wonderful biodiversity. If you want to know more about Australian Biodiversity you should read Chapman (2009); his estimates suggest that Australian biodiversity comprises: 
·         Fungi 9%
·         Plants 5%
·         ‘Microbes’ 28% (Archaea, Bacteria and Protista).
·         Animals 58%:
o   Vertebrates (birds, fish, mammals, reptiles etc) less than 2%
o   Invertebrates 56%

Species scape – the larger the organism the more species! (Yves Basset & Isabelle Bachy). 
So sadly to date most of our efforts in understand biodiversity have likely focused on only  around 7% of Australia’s species.

When editing, please don't forget to give a short reason as to why the text has been changed. Wikipedia protects itself from malicious robots by checking this. It is also worth keeping track of your edited text as other editors may want to revert to the status quo. Keeping edits in format free programs like notepad are best as wiki pages are in html. Remember that information that is not supported by citation is easily modified or removed. (Below are some references that you may want to cite for Australian and Australasian fungi.)

If you would like inspiration you should check out the site for Wombat State Forest particularly section 4 ‘Fauna, fungi and flora’.

If you can upload pictures into Wikipedia it takes a few days but well worth it: ‘sexy fungi’ pictures are always appealing!

If you end up wanting to change more than a word or two you should read up on how to cite in Wikipedia 

Happy editing and correcting on behalf of accuracy and fungal conservation!

Sapphire McMullan-Fisher, Chair of Fungimap Conservation and Biodiversity Subcommittee and Australasian representative on the Council of the International Society for Fungal Conservation.


Chapman, AD. (2009) Numbers of living species in Australia and the world. Australian Biological Resources Study, Canberra. <http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/abrs/publications/other/species-numbers/2009/pubs/nlsaw-2nd-complete.pdf>

Hawksworth, DL. (1996). Biodiversity: measurement and estimation. Springer..

Minter D. (2011) Botanists and zoologists fungal conservation needs you. http://www.fungal-conservation.org/blogs/message-to-botanists-and-zoologists.pdf.

Mueller GM, Schmit JP. (2007). Fungal biodiversity: what do we know? What can we predict? Biodiversity and Conservation 16: 1–5.

Mueller, GM, Schmit, JP , Leacock, PR, Buyck, B, Cifuentes, J, Desjardin, DE, Halling, RE, Hjortstam, K, Iturriaga, T, Larsson, K-H, Lodge, DJ, May, TW, Minter, D, Rajchenberg, M, Redhead, SA, Ryvarden, L, Trappe, JM, Watling, R, Wu, Q. (2007) Global diversity and distribution of macrofungi. Biodiversity and Conservation, 16, 37-48.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Calling All Fungi Photographers!

The Australian Geographic  2014 ANZANG Nature Photographer of the Year competition is now open, with further details and submissions being accepted here: http://www.anzang.samuseum.sa.gov.au/ 

Although last year Raoul Slater of Queensland won the Botanical category for his photograph of inkcaps titled "Fungi in Mist" (see below or http://www.anzang.samuseum.sa.gov.au/gallery ),  fungi have rarely featured in this competition in the past. However, we know that quite a few Fungimappers are also very talented photographers so we encourage you to submit your best and be recognised for your skills at showing how beautiful, fascinating and strange Kingdom Fungi can appear!

Amateur and professional photographers of all ranges can compete and there are cash prizes for winners and runners-up.

If you need any advice on the identification of a fungus featured in your photographs, email us at info@fungimap.org.au and our experienced field naturalists and mycological experts will try to assist.

Entries close on Friday 7 March 2014 at 5pm ACDT.

Best of luck!
Raoul Slater's winning photograph of inkcaps in 2013,
from http://www.anzang.samuseum.sa.gov.au/gallery

Ford Kristo of New South Wales won Runner-Up in the Botanical category in 2012 for this photograph titled "Mushroom singing in the rain".

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Fungi in Farm and Woodland Restoration

Text and images by Alison Pouliot, All Rights Reserved.

Old trees are vital keystones of
woodlands and farmlands.

Since its inception in Victoria in 1985, Landcare participants have planted millions of native plants as part of the restoration of farmlands, woodlands, forests and grasslands. During this time Landcare has grown into a nation-wide initiative and indeed spread further to another 20 countries.

While Landcare efforts have been remarkably successful in restoring soils, vegetation and waterways, could these efforts be even more effective if fungi were included as part of landscape restoration efforts?

The Mid-Loddon Landcare Network and Conservation Management Network strive to achieve the integrated management of native woodlands with productive farmland in addressing environmental issues. The groups also work to protect threatened local species, the Bush Stone-curlew (Burhinus grallarius) being one such example of a species on the brink of local extinction that is being actively assisted. The event of the first bird recorded on camera in one of the protected areas last week was a welcome sign of conservation success.

However, these groups are also inspiring examples of dedicated local enthusiasts who recognise the importance of fungi in maintaining diverse and resilient ecosystems. In recent years the groups have run various sessions to inform participants of the role of fungi in soils. The groups' dynamic and tireless coordinator, Judy Crocker, has a profound appreciation of the significance of fungi in agroecosytems and encourages farmers to restore the fungal and microbial ecologies of their soils, to improve both farm production and ecosystem integrity. Judy recognises the importance of fungi in linking ecosystems, particularly the importance of leaf litter for both fungi and curlews, as well as the role of fungi in stabilising soils following fire.

Xerula australis group.
Cortinarius sublargus following fire.

Also of great concern to the group is the decline of old trees in rural Victoria. This decline is thought to be due to a combination of factors including drought stress and land management practices that have altered salinity, nutrient composition, soil structure, water infiltration etc. However, are there ways that fungi could be more actively incorporated into efforts to maintain and protect old trees?

The Mid Loddon Landcare Network and CMN will be running several sessions this autumn to explore the role of fungi in central Victorian environments.  Further information about the MLCMN's activities can be found here.

The fungi of Victoria's northern-central environments have been little documented. Any records of Fungimap target species from these regions would make a great contribution to the knowledge and conservation of Australia's fungi and ecosystems.

Fungi are vital to the resilience of Victoria's woodlands.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Spores in the Wind

 Thanks to Fungimapper Ian Bell for alerting us to some interesting research that has recently come out of UCLA.

In November, at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics in Pittsburgh, researchers Marcus Roper and colleague Emilie Dressaire presented their findings on how mushroom-producing fungi  actively and intentionally spread their spores by creating small pockets of air flow that can carry their spores away from the mushroom up to an extra 10 centimeters horizontally and vertically.

The mushroom accomplishes this by failing to protect its moisture content, allowing it to evaporate off. This evaporation causes a small, local cooling effect on the air which enables it to expand outwards, carrying the spores with it.

To read more about this interesting research:
And cup fungi setting off a chain reaction to produce a jet:
Fungal air jets (Image: M. Roper/University of California, Berkley)

Monday, 30 December 2013

Fungi, Keystones of Evolution and Earth Processes

 Meeting report, Linnean Society, London, 17 October 2013 

Fungimap folk are well aware of the challenges for a mushroom in a fauna-and-flora-centric world. Along with the trials of rapidly changing environmental conditions on local and global scales, there are also socio-cultural factors of trying to increase public and political awareness of the kingdom Fungi. The Fungimap Conservation Committee and interested individuals are working to improve the profile and conservation of fungi in Australia. One approach is to look at what's happening in fungal conservation elsewhere in the world.

The British Mycological Society, British Lichen Society and Linnean Society of London recently held a meeting, 'Fungi, keystones of evolution and earth processes'. The diverse program aimed to engage a broad audience on the role of fungi in terrestrial evolution; their diversity, interactions and ecological significance; as well as address scientific and political conservation issues. Advancements in molecular taxonomic techniques and the value of fungi in the global economy were also presented.

FIG 1. Ectomycorrhizal pine tree grown in a root
observation chamber on natural soil at the University of Sheffield.
Image © Prof. JR Leake and Dr DP Donnell.
The symposium opened with a journey back in geological time with Jonathan Leake asking us to consider the evolutionary history of fungal-symbioses and the significance of mycorrhiza in driving biogeochemical cycles. 

Bryn Dentinger, head of mycology at the Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG) Kew, then discussed the difficulty of estimating fungal diversity and the daunting reality that fungal extinction rates likely exceed rates of discovery and description. He also explored the promises and pitfalls of next-generation sequencing, particularly in the context of unseen and cryptic biodiversity.

FIG 2.  A tiny selection of fungal diversity collected from an Ecuadorian cloud forest. Image © Bryn Dentinger

Peter Crittenden and Rebecca Yahr both presented cutting edge lichen research. Peter discussed lichen dominance in boreal-artic environments and their role as principal primary producers in these systems. Rebecca reported on her lichen research on the building materials of pre-industrial English houses, lifting the lid on the huge magnitude of biodiversity losses in the temperate zone before descriptive science had really been born. Paul Cannon and James Wearn from RBG Kew introduced us to the role, significance and exploitation of endophytes, reminding us that almost every leaf in every corner of the world contains endophytic fungi! David Minter gave us a fervent yet worrisome update on the current representation of fungi by various conservation organisations, highlighting the commonplace disregard for and misrepresentation of fungi.

FIG 3. Bow Cottage on the Holnicote Estate, Exmoor Somerset. Thatched roofs like this can hold treasure-troves of pre-industrial materials. Image © Dr Rebecca Yahr

In the evening, truffle expert, Jim Trappe, delivered an interesting exploration of how Australia came to be the centre of global truffle evolution and the curiosities of mammalian mycophagy. Contemplating such evolutionary significances seemed especially apt in the room (according to the commemorative plaque) where Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace first discussed the concept of the origin of species by natural selection. However, apparently this was not the case and neither Darwin nor Wallace were actually present at that historic meeting and their paper was read to the Fellows by Lyell and Hooker. All the same, the historical setting added an interesting dimension to discussions on a kingdom that had yet to be properly recognised or defined in their time. 

FIG 4: Truffle expert Jim Trappe at the Linnean Society.
Image: Alison Pouliot.

Following the conference I visited RBG Kew and the appropriately named Fungarium that houses over 1.2 million specimens. Bryn Dentinger and Begoña Aguirre-Hudson share the formidable task of decrypting 'fungal identity', compounded by the subjectivities of interpretation, hieroglyphics of mycologists' handwriting, and a further dimension introduced by recent molecular approaches.

FIG 5: Fungal specimen collections at the RBG Kew Fungarium. Images: Alison Pouliot

FIG 6:  Fungal sculptures by Tom Hare.
Images: Alison Pouliot

Wandering through the gardens later in the afternoon, I stumbled across a cluster of Craterellus cornucopioides towering an astonishing three metres high! Meanwhile up on the hill, giant Coprinus comatus had begun to deliquesce. These particular specimens were in fact woven from willow by sculptor, Tom Hare. Fungal conservation needs ways to access new advocates and the arts play an important role in increasing the visibility of these often less visible organisms, as well as re-enchanting the fungal world. Hare has arguably captured both an intriguing aesthetic while maintaining a level of morphological accuracy.

The 7th of November marks a century since Alfred Russel Wallace's death. I wonder how this revolutionary naturalist, renowned for his unconventional ideas and interest in both scientific and social issues would tackle the challenges of biodiversity loss in 2013. While fungal conservation issues are inevitably complex, solutions are also likely lie in unconventional and imaginative ideas that incorporate both scientific and social approaches.

*Many images available for use, please contact Alison for details. Thanks to Prof. JR Leake, Dr DP Donnell, Dr Bryn Dentinger and Dr Rebecca Yahr for the use of their images in this blog.

Thanks also to Paul Cannon, David Minter and David Hawksworth for organising the symposium. The full program of talks is available here.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Australian Fungus Forayers in France

Text and images by Alison Pouliot

Autumnal forests of the French Jura
Driving rain and wild winds did little to deter over 30 participants who attended a fungus foray in the French Jura last weekend.

France, the home of the world's first mycological society is of course also famous for its prized truffles.  These long scientific and cultural connections have embedded fungi deeply within the consciousness and knowledge of local folk.

Last Sunday's forayers, however, originated from further flung lands including a mob from Downunder.  The mainly expatriate group was keen to see what fungi inhabited the hills beyond the NGOs in nearby Geneva that had brought many of them to Europe.

Mt Mussy provided an idyllic foray location complete with falling leaves swirling through shafts of soft autumnal light.  Forayers wended their way through chestnut and oak, birch and beech as well as various conifers, eyes glued to the ground

Fungus forayers at Mt Mussy.

Although many of the larger fleshy fungi had disappeared by this late stage in the season, the abundance of large old wood proffered an interesting array of saprobic species. Among the highlights were various Helvella species and Thelephora anthocephala. The mycophagists in the group were excited to discover Hydnum repandum.

A helluva lot of competition seems to exist among the Helvella genus to maximise the kookiest mophological manifestation. Helvella lacunosa, H. crispa and H. macropus.

Hypholoma sublateritium busily decomposing a log.

A French echidna?  No, but Thelephora anthocephala is also an extremely interesting organism.
Even the slime mould Lycogala epidendrum braved the cold to decorate this fallen log.
Some lovely specimens of Hydnum repandum kept the mycophagists happy.

It was inspiring that half our group were children, whose young minds and memories retained the names, knowledge and curiosity from the previous autumn's foray. Our canine companions however, proved less helpful with none managing to unearth a single truffle.

The foray finished around the fire with vin rouge and afternoon tea at the home of Aussies, Bron and Nico Lay who generously hosted the event and also organise the annual Australia Festival.  As we left the darkening forest, a conversation arose among the Australians about Abbot's war on science.  A young voice chipped in, 'How silly!  How are we supposed to discover the world without science'.  Oh for the refreshing wisdom of a six-year old and a new science minister in the making perhaps?

Australian fungal advocate, Roman (Banjo) Lay Clark demonstrates how well a tree can grow if accompanied by its mycorrhizal fungal partners.
Time to head home....