Call to action in the campaign to save Earth’s forgotten kingdom

The lights have gone down on the environmental summit at Nagoya, Japan, but the fire is still burning as a new international movement of scientists steps up its campaign for the recognition and protection of a biological kingdom fundamental to life on Earth, but still largely ignored even by key environmental leaders. The recently formed International Society for Fungal Conservation (ISFC) has hailed the Nagoya "Conference of the Parties" summit for making the first steps towards recognition of the importance of fungi for all our lives.

Fungi are neither animals nor plants, but form a separate and megadiverse biological kingdom. They are present in every major ecosystem - freshwater, marine and terrestrial. Their role as providers of ecosystem services, particularly in nutrient recycling, is of critical importance for sustainable life on this planet. However, fungi have been almost totally overlooked by the conservation movement in general, and the Rio convention in particular: the convention's definition of biodiversity as comprising "animals, plants and micro-organisms" totally fails to take their unique character into account. This looks to be changed after lobbying by ISFC as the first society anywhere in the world to be explicitly and exclusively dedicated to protecting fungi.

“The news from Nagoya was that the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation has been changed to make it clear that fungi, including lichen-forming fungi, are not plants, but need a conservation strategy of their own”, explained ISFC co-ordinator, David Minter. “That discussion may well be the first time fungi have been explicitly considered by the CBD as something separate from plants".

“Fungal conservation is an idea whose time has come. There has been significant development in fungal conservation over the past four years. In particular, the IUCN Species Survival Commission now correctly recognises fungi as organisms separate from animals and plants, and has more than doubled the number of specialist groups for fungi”.

Dr Minter concluded by outlining a key challenge to scientific organisations and members of the public in general to take on board a new concept: “I am asking everyone, whether talking or writing about biodiversity, to describe it in the form of ‘animals, fungi, micro-organisms and plants’, alphabetical order - to make clear that none is less important than the others. Describing biodiversity as just "animals and plants" is scientifically incorrect, misleads the public, and perpetuates an old mistake".

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