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Conservation of fungi and their habitats

Dr. David Minter, CABI International

Dr. David Minter

About Dr. David Minter

President of the International Society for Fungal Conservation. President of the European Mycological Association. Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Cup Fungi, Truffles and Allies Specialist Group. Curator of the Cybertruffle website [www.cybertruffle.org.uk]. Corresponding Member of the Cuban Academy of Sciences. Interests: fungal conservation; taxonomy of ascomycetes.

Title of the plenary talk: Fungal conservation in Africa and beyond

Author: David Minter

Abstract of the talk

Without fungi, life as we know could not be sustained on this planet. We need them, and they need conservation. They are just as endangered as animals and plants. They face the same threats. They have no magical protection against climate change, exploitation, habitat loss, persecution and pollution. Nature cannot be saved if fungi are forgotten: you can’t protect the producers (plants) and consumers (animals) unless you also protect the recyclers. Amazingly, the conservation movement still focuses overwhelmingly on animals and plants. Fungi get little or no attention. The 1992 Rio Convention is a good example. It aims to protect all nature globally, but in practice almost totally overlooks fungi. Fungi are the “Orphans of Rio”! It is the duty of mycologists to challenge this terrible deficiency. We must press conservationists worldwide to include fungi in their plans. If we don’t do this, who will?

Getting protection for fungi is difficult. Several problems must be addressed at the same time. Conservation is a combination of science and politics. Science says, “this species is endangered”. Politics says, “something must be done to protect it”. So we need scientific evidence, we need to educate the public, and we need to press politicians. To do that, there must be infrastructure for fungal conservation, and policies for promoting it. Many different NGOs protect animals and plants, but where are the fungal conservation societies? They need to be set up. That is our job. Work has already begun. There is an International Society for Fungal Conservation and some regional fungal conservation societies. The IUCN has formally recognized that fungal conservation is just as important as animal and plant conservation, and the number of fungal specialist groups in its Species Survival Commission has increased. That is a start, but only a start. There are no fungal conservation societies in Africa south of the Sahara. Almost everywhere, national fungal conservation societies are needed. Very few places have an agreed strategy for conserving fungi.

With so few mycologists, it will be difficult to address these problems. Efforts must be targeted. We need to change attitudes. People who describe biodiversity as “animals and plants” or “flora and fauna” should be challenged. These words are lazy and inaccurate. They send the wrong message, they damage our cause. Descriptions of biodiversity must explicitly include fungi, and it’s not good enough simply to add fungi as an afterthought. Botanists and zoologists can help get mycologists included in teams planning biodiversity conservation: they are often invited when we are not. We must press national representatives for the Rio Convention to ensure fungi are properly covered in their reports and plans [their e-mail addresses can be downloaded from www.cbd.int/doc/lists/nfp-sbstta.pdf]. We must demand that fungi are included in biology lessons at school and in universities. We must improve the presence of fungi on the Internet: editing the biodiversity part of Wikipedia entries for each country is easy and can be done by anyone with Internet access. We must produce red lists at all levels from global to local and, to do that, we must provide information resources, training and guidance in making those evaluations.

Key words: education, politics, protection of fungi, Rio Convention, fungal conservation societies