Australasian Fungi Conservation Group

Introduction

Certain species of fungi are rare or are associated with specific rare hosts or restricted habitats. Such fungi need to be conserved and managed with the same degree of attention as applied to plants and animals. Unfortunately, formal recognition of rare and endangered fungi has been historically difficult to obtain in Australasia. There appears to be a number of reasons for this. First, fungi are often invisible for the majority of the year until environmental conditions are briefly suited to fruiting body formation and even then encounters with different species may only occur by chance. Second, because of their cryptic nature, understanding biological aspects that are necessary for their listing as rare species (such as population size) is a major challenge for mycologists. And third, there are few qualified mycologists currently working in Australasia who can provide information about the identity, biology and ecology of any fungal species, let alone rare ones.

The Australasian Fungi Conservation Group has been reactivated as a formal subcommittee of the Australasian Mycological Society to improve this state of affairs. The work of the Group will build on initiatives that are improving knowledge and facilitating the ability to assess the conservation status of Australasian fungi, including citizen science mapping schemes like Fungimap (https://fungimap.org.au/), development of explicit criteria for estimating population numbers of fungi (Dahlberg & Mueller, Fungal Ecology  4:147-162, 2011), and the Global Fungi Red List Initiative that seeks to increase the number of assessed and listed species under the IUCN criteria (http://iucn.ekoo.se/en/iucn/welcome).

Left, Hygrocybe cheelii with attached insect exoskeleton (© Ian Milinovitch). Centre, Morchella sp. in Southern Queensland (© John Dearnaley). Right, Mycologists in the field at Ravensbourne National Park (© John Dearnaley).

Australasian Fungi Conservation Group

A Conservation Subcommittee of AMS was active in the early years of the Society, but has not met for some years. The ‘Australasian Fungi Conservation Group’ of AMS was re-activated after discussion between AMS Council members and participants in the Workshop on Threat Status Assessment, held at the AMS Scientific meeting in May 2016 in Queenstown, New Zealand. The Group was approved at the August AMS Council meeting, with the same status and reporting arrangements as other subcommittees of the AMS. Tom May and Peter Buchanan have agreed to act as co-conveners.

There are a number of other formal and informal groups active in conservation in the region, including the Oceania Group of the Global Fungal Red List Initiative. In relation to the International Society for Fungal Conservation, several persons active within AMS have formal roles: Peter Buchanan is the Membership Secretary and Sapphire McMullan-Fisher is the Australasian Regional Delegate on the ISFC Council (representing the Organization Member Fungimap). There are also AMS members who are involved with the IUCN Fungal Conservation Committee  and the IUCN Mushroom, Bracket and Puffball Specialist Group. Regional fungal studies groups are increasingly involved in fungal conservation.

Above, Hypocreopsis amplectens or “Tea-tree fingers” (© Tom May), one of the few macrofungi listed under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988. This species is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Roles of the Australasian Fungi Conservation Group include:

  • Creating linkages among groups and individuals with an interest in the conservation of Australasian fungi

  • Disseminating information about the conservation status of Australasian fungi, including research publications, additions to threat status lists etc

  • Providing informed comment on government conservation and biodiversity policies and strategies

  • Facilitating peer/expert review by mycologists of fungal threat assessments

  • Holding training workshops on threat status assessment

 

A Google Group has been set up for the subcommittee to facilitate discussion. If you wish to participate in the Group discussion, please contact: tom.may@rbg.vic.gov.au

Red-Listing of Australasian Fungi

In 2015 the first Australasian fungus was included on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Claustula fischeri is a rare fungus that has only been documented at a few locations in Tasmania and New Zealand. It is a very unusual fungus consisting of a white egg-shaped fruiting body initially covered by a purplish outer layer. Unusually for a stinkhorn, the spore mass is devoid of smell. For more details on its IUCN red-listing see http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/75720773/0.

A second fungus was added in 2016. Boletopsis nothofagi was described from New Zealand in only 2021. It is a quite large fungus with a grey cap and stipe (see below), which bruise black. It has white pores, looks like a bolete and is only known from two sites in New Zealand: one near Wellington, the other in Nelson Lakes National Park in the South Island. Its closest relatives are all in the northern hemisphere and some are on European Red Lists. For more details on its IUCN red-listing see http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/80188388/0.

An enlarged set of species from Australasia was considered at the Australasian Fungi Red List Workshop, held at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria in Melbourne in 2019. Some of these species were formally assessed and added to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. There are 36 species native to Australasia that are considered threatened, including three assessed as Critically Endangered, 18 as Endangered, nine as Vulnerable and six as Near Threatened. In addition, 12 have been assessed as Data Deficient, and five as Least Concern. In addition, there are other fungi occurring in the region that are widespread globally and have been assessed as not currently under threat, such as various species of Suillus, that occur as exotics in Australasia.

Threatened species occurring in Australasia are listed below. Comprehensive information on the species can be found in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, including images, maps and details of current status and threats. Distribution: AUS – Australia, NC – New Caledonia, NZ – New Zealand, PNG – Papua New Guinea. Threat categories: CR – Critically Endangered, EN – Endangered, VU – Vulnerable, NT – Near Threatened.

Upper figure, upper surface of Claustula fischeri. Lower figure, Section through the fruit body of C. fischeri. showing the spore mass. Pictures courtesy of Genevieve Gates and Michael Pilkington.

Above, Boletopsis nothofagi in New Zealand.

Picture courtesy of Patrick Leonard