A small but highly significant meeting of international scientists at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) has resulted in the inauguration of the world’s first society for the conservation of fungi. Following the appointment of a steering group, the International Society for Fungal Conservation has now set out to explain its goals on the website www.fungal-conservation.org, with the aim of creating fresh awareness of the importance of fungi to the way we live our lives.
“Although often confused with plants, fungi are in fact something totally different: a whole biological kingdom of their own”’ explained RBGE Associate Research Mycologist Dr David Minter, who was responsible for bringing together the 50 leading scientists in Edinburgh on August 6.
“Where plants are the primary producers, and animals the consumers, fungi are par excellence nature’s recyclers. As such, their ecological role is phenomenally important. It is no exaggeration to say that, without fungi, life as we know it on this planet - and that includes us - could not exist. It is all the more remarkable, therefore, that up to now there has not been a single society in the world explicitly devoted to protecting fungi. The reasons are not hard to find. Being so accustomed to thinking of nature as “fauna and flora”, people overlook fungi. Yet there are more fungi than plants, and far, far more than all the amphibians, birds, fish, mammals and reptiles put together”.
As a result, the conservation movement has missed fungi. So, unlike animals and plants, these economically important and beautiful organisms have no legal protection in most countries of the world. Dr Minter pointed out: “Even the 1992 Rio Convention on Biological Diversity, which promised so much, has almost totally failed to deliver protection for fungi, making them what some scientists to refer to as ‘the orphans of Rio’”.
Yet, protection is critical. “Fungi have no special features making them immune to destructive human activity. Habitat loss, climate change and pollution imperil fungi just as much as they do animals and plants. The difference up to now has been the absence of voices raised on behalf of fungi”.
That situation is set to change following the launch of the International Society for Fungal Conservation. “Fungi are far more important to human life than we imagine”, concluded Dr Minter. They are much more than just mushrooms on a plate – there is a desperate need for more research. There is still so much to be learned from fungi. They’ve been overlooked, they need protection, and it’s time to do something about it. We cannot afford to wait any longer”.
The International Society for Fungal Conservation was inaugurated at RBGE with the support of its Director of Science Professor Mary Gibby, who commented: “I am delighted to support this initiative to develop the world’s first society for fungal conservation. Fungi are important to all our lives, not just providing us with bread, beer and essential medicines, but fundamental to the functioning of our green planet.
“Fungi are the great recyclers – the ‘rotting fungi’ break down dead and decaying matter while other fungi are intimately associated with roots, ensuring that our forest trees can absorb essential nutrients. And fungi can be extraordinarily beautiful. Through the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), great strides have been made for conservation; I hope that this initiative will ensure that the international enthusiasm that has supported plant and animal conservation will be harnessed for fungi.”
Her remarks were echoed by RBGE Regius Keeper, Professor Stephen Blackmore, who added: “The world wouldn't work without fungi. They complete the natural cycles that plants begin. Focusing on their conservation is long overdue".
The next focus of the International Society for Fungal Conservation will be to adopt a formal constitution and map out its initial objectives by October 22.