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Diversity of macrofungi in Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak

This project is documenting the macrofungal community (mushrooms and allies) within the boundaries of Gunung Mulu National Park (Sarawak, Malaysia) using field surveys, comparative morphology, DNA barcoding, and phylogenetic analysis.

Calostoma pachystelis, locally known as the 'Deer's eyeball' is a frequently encountered gelatinous stalked puffball found in Gunung Mulu's Dipterocarpaceae- and Fagaceae-dominated forests. (Photo: Bryn Dentinger)

Tropical fungi are severely understudied, yet as recyclers and mutualists they occupy fundamental niches critical to ecosystem functioning and could provide a rich, not yet fully realized, sustainable source of medicines, foods, and other renewable non-timber forest products. The lush, ancient paleotropical forests of Southeast Asia and Australasia are suspected of harbouring the richest diversity of fungi on Earth, yet the current rate of habitat loss greatly exceeds the rate of species documentation and we are at risk of losing most of their diversity to extinction before it can be properly recorded.

Gunung Mulu National Park (N 3°56'-4°16', E 114°47'-115°00') on the island of Borneo was recently designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its spectacular geology and biodiversity. Although most famous for its many extensive caves perforating the jagged limestone karst mountains that characterize the area, Gunung Mulu holds more than 52,000 hectares of pristine tropical rainforest with elevations that range from near sea-level to over 2,000 m at the top of Gunung Mulu, Borneo’s second highest mountain. This large tract of dense, unspoiled tropical rainforest is a Centre of Plant Diversity with over 3,500 plant species documented to date. This especially rich assemblage of plant life is predicted to support an even richer diversity of fungi, with as many as 21,000 species of fungi predicted from projecting the widely cited estimate of six species of fungi for every species of plant. In part, this diversity can be explained by the variety of habitats that occur in the park, due to the range of elevations and soil types that exist there. For macrofungi (mushrooms and allies) in particular, Gunung Mulu provides a tremendous diversity of soil types and habitats that can support not only a large variety of decomposers, but ectomycorrhizal mutualists as well, as most of its forest types are dominated by ectomycorrhizal trees (Dipterocarpaceae, Fagaceae). Hence, an enormous diversity of macrofungi is anticipated to occur in the park. From a global perspective, fungi found in Gunung Mulu may be critical for accurate reconstruction of fungal evolutionary history, as previous studies have suggested that the paleotropics can harbour ancient lineages.

This project will systematically document the macrofungal community within the boundaries of the park using field surveys, comparative morphology, DNA barcoding, and phylogenetic analysis. One anticipated outcome of our long-term collaborative survey is the production of a full-color, photographic field guide to the mushrooms of Gunung Mulu, which will serve as a valuable resource for future mycological study on the island and biogeographically affiliated regions.

UPDATE: We have expanded our project to the rest of Sarawak.

Photos and updated reports

Project partners and collaborators

Canada
Royal Ontario Museum
University of Toronto
 
Sarawak (Malaysia)
Universiti Malaya Sarawak
Gunung Mulu National Park

Project funders

UK

Bentham-Moxon Trust

Project team

Canada

Jean-Marc Moncalvo (Royal Ontario Museum/University of Toronto)

Sarawak (Malaysia)

Speiah Muid (Universiti Malaya Sarawak)

Project Leader: