An international group dedicated to protecting the world’s diverse array of fungi has been formed as the result of a groundbreaking meeting of high-profile scientists, brought together in the North Yorkshire town of Whitby by Dr David Minter, an Associate of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
A key challenge for the new group will be to turn the tide on a now critical situation which has allowed the number of UK fungal taxonomists to decline by 90% since just 1992, the year of the Rio Convention. This at a time when it is believed more than 90% of the world’s fungi remain undiscovered and more than 90% of those already described are still too poorly documented for mycological experts to tell if they are endangered or not.
“This is a vital step forward in redressing the crisis currently facing this area of science”, explained Dr Minter. “Until now fungi have been almost totally overlooked by the conservation movement. Yet, they are vitally important in every major ecosystem on this planet, as nature’s principal recyclers, as plant symbionts and in so many other ways. Many are hugely important economically, for example as natural sources of pharmaceuticals, such as penicillin. Without them, life as we know it could not exist.
“But, like animals and plants, they are greatly endangered by human activity. This meeting of key international professionals has been a significant step towards gaining global understanding of how factors ranging from climate change to habitat destruction and pollution threaten fungi around the world”.
Dr Minter drew together more than 30 experts from over 20 countries, representing every continent, to agree the basis for a new start in fungal conservation. Organised under the auspices of the European Mycological Association on behalf of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with support from the UK Darwin Initiative (DEFRA) and the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, it was the first truly global conference on the topic. And, with the recent dramatic loss of relevant expertise in Britain, it will seek to address a now critical situation.
Those showing their support included participants with expertise in terrestrial, marine, freshwater and aerial fungi, who will now prepare a campaign to address problems in adapting “red-listing” procedures, allowing the conservation status of these remarkable organisms to be monitored. A situation they claim has arisen as a result of governmental indifference
“There are no easy answers and change will not come quickly”, conceded Dr Minter. “Expertise has been allowed to deteriorate to such an extent that we are currently losing more mycologists than we are able to replace. Governments and scientific institutions need to be convinced of the severity of the situation and persuaded to help turn this around while we are still in time to halt potentially devastating results”.
The first job of the new group will be to develop a global strategy for fungal conservation similar to those already available for animals and plants. This will be accompanied by training to ensure key scientists have the public relations skills needed to promote this plan through the media.
The European Mycological Association is the continental-level association for Europe promoting the scientific study of fungi.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature is the world's oldest and largest global environmental network. It helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges.
The UK Darwin Initiative seeks to help countries rich in biodiversity but poor in resources to fulfil their commitments under the Rio Convention.
The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund is a recently established philanthropic fund supporting conservation of endangered species.