Collecting fungi to build our knowledge

Tylopilus balloui collected under permit in Ocean Grove Victoria (S Mcfish)

Most Australian indigenous fungi still need to be named and our understanding of the biology including distributions and associations with other species needs active work. The first step is to just start recording digital records of fungi that you see around using iNaturalist. Research grade observations go into the Atlas of Living Australia, which helps us understand our fungi better.

The science of naming organisms is called taxonomy. Naming species is an important step in understanding about where species live, what they associate with and how they reproduce. Macrofungi – the larger spore bodies that we can see like mushrooms, puffballs, coral fungi and much more – are the sexual reproductive effort of many fungi particularly basidiomycetes and ascomycetes. To be able to recognise and name species, taxonomy needs good collections from across the range of the species.

Sometimes when collections in a group of what was thought to be a single species are investigated to include DNA the group is found to be made up of several species. These are so called cryptic species, that look morphologically similar but are actually different species.

Learning to make good collections for taxonomic work

In 2020 we started a group of interested volunteers who all wanted to help support the increasing of knowledge about Australian Fungi by making good scientific collections to support taxonomy. We are doing this for the love of fungi so are amateurs in the best sense of the word! The team includes volunteers from MYCOmmunity, Fun Fungi Ecology and a diverse range of fungi folk. We met online about once a month to help each other learn about collecting fungi and some of the projects going on around the country.

Many of these collections will feed into the current MYCOmmunity Wild DNA Project

We also recommend joining some of the local fungal interest groups and get out into the bush with other fungal enthusiasts as this is a great way to learn.

If you would like to join our team of volunteers contact us through MYCOmmunity

Polypore collection probably an Echinochaete species (S McFish)

There are many Australasian fungi that need taxonomic work. Where possible we want to work in with any local mycologists. Their local knowledge on their particular fungi groups is invaluable. Combining their knowledge of the group and what characters are best to record to maximise the taxonomic usefulness. Plus our team has a broad geographic distribution which helps to broaden the scope of focused collections.

However with the limited number of Australasian taxonomists, we also know that there will be species to describe that are so far have not been considered. So, we will work as team to firstly check ‘DNA blasts’ and then try to build some phylogenetic trees so we can me more confident about identifications etc. Then to make enough collections of any undescribed species to make a good contribution to mycology by publishing species.

For example, we had a great presentation by Dr Matt Barrett on Australasian Polypores and are now are better able to collect Polypores as we have more idea of what characteristics are helpful for identification. For example a cross section of the flesh, spore print and associated plant host as many of these are saprotrophic.

Many of us are also helping following FungiSight

Ethical and Legal Collecting

Although many fungi produce many fruit bodies and large quantities of spores, this is not always the case. For example, Tea-tree Fingers is a threatened species that is protected by the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, and so this should never be collected. As Tea-tree Fingers and other rare fungi could be pushed to extinction if over collected. A good rule of thumb is to so take care to never collect all the material you see of a species. And only collect if you are going to contribute to better understanding and conservation of the species.

In most Australian states collecting permits are required on public land and landholder’s permission to collect is required by the international treaty under the Nagoya Protocol. The best practice for landholder permission is in writing, so get them to send you an email as the easiest proof. We are interested in voucher collections lodged in fungaria (the fungal equivalent of herbaria), particularly with images. Collections must be made under appropriate permits (such as when collecting in national parks).

You need a permit for each Australian state or territory you work in, for more information about permits can be found here:

Resources for getting started

The collecting manual I suggest people read up on is this from the Queensland Mycological Society and their collecting page.

My suggestion is that ANY collections made with a few photo’s should be added to iNaturalist using the field for collection number. As this data can easily be extracted so that we have most the information needed. It also makes permit reports easier to put together.