A BBC article has recently highlighted fungi and how the fungi kingdom tends to go unnoticed in comparison to plants and animals. And that is not just in terms of people taking an interest in them but also when it comes to research and conservation.
As explained by the British Mycological (the study of fungi) Society, fungi are neither plant or animal and have a kingdom of their own of 3-5 million species. Most fungi are understudied meaning that they have not been named or described. It is thought that more than 90% of all fungi are yet to be described by science. The society is currently pushing for fungi to be included in the GCSE Natural History qualification launching in 2025 to promote their importance and encourage future studies.
Dr Drakulic who is featured in the BBC article emphasises the concern with the lack of research into fungi as understandably it makes it very difficult to protect species that you know very little to nothing about.
Why are they so important?
So maybe fungi are not the most attractive things in the world to look at or probably don’t seem very exciting but they can actually be very important and play their part in ecosystems.
- Fungi are recyclers, feeding on dead tissue and improving soil quality.
- They can help plants find nutrients and water to grow by forming a relationship with their roots called mycorrhizas. This relationship is suggested to have helped plants colonise land over 450 million years ago.
- Food production: for example, yeast used in bread, beer and wine; the production of enzymes to make fruit juices and cheese.
- Antibiotics such as penicillin are made by fungi.
- The production of statins used to prevent transplant tissue rejection involves fungi.
- Bicontrol for controlling crop pests
It is clear there is a need for the study of fungi to have a better understanding of the species around us and from there the role they play in ecosystems and biodiversity to conserve species where necessary.
Citizen science projects could play a huge part in the study of fungi with the correct guidance. This interesting blog about someone starting to explore their interest in fungi explains how citizen science could help with research and has some interesting takes for those with an interest in the area. Alongside citizen science, DNA barcoding is also an important resource for fungi identification and research.