Fungi of Great Britain
Fungi are one of the most diverse organism groups, with an estimated 12,000 species known from Great Britain and Ireland. The identification of many is difficult due to inadequate and inaccessible information and lack of reliable illustrations. This project brings together two large unpublished data sets as a freely accessible web resource.
Left: The lichen Placopsis lambii, growing with other species on slate, Carmarthenshire, Wales. (Photo: Paul Cannon) Right: The nail fungus Poronia punctata, of conservation concern in the UK, growing on horse dung, Anglesey.
The fungi of Great Britain and Ireland are probably better known than of any other part of the world. Even so the vast majority of species (especially microscopic taxa) are poorly known and hard to identify, primarily because comprehensive and reliable diagnostic text and illustrations either do not exist, or are inaccessible to all except specialists. This is a serious block to progress in knowledge of their distribution and conservation needs, substantially reducing the opportunities for citizen scientists to fill these knowledge gaps.
A major Kew-led project in the 1990s addressed this issue, with completion of large parts of a comprehensive monograph of the Ascomycota (the most speciose major group of fungi) of Great Britain and Ireland. However, it proved impossible to complete the work within the funding window, and many of the species accounts remain unpublished.
The introduction of new web-based taxonomic tools now means that this information can be made available to mycologists and natural historians on a species by species basis, without the need to complete the entire project prior to publication. These data, along with other information from a wide range of sources and a library of >10,000 digital colour images, are being input into a Scratchpad application hosted by the Natural History Museum, London.
As of November 2011, the Scratchpad application includes over 1,100 nodes (i.e. taxa), all of which include basic descriptive information and/or image(s) for it or its subordinate taxa (e.g. a genus containing multiple species). Realtime links to external resources such as the National Biodiversity Network (NBN), Genbank and the Biodiversity Heritage Library are also present.
The focus is currently to input a critical mass of data, but the long-term intention is that the website will evolve into a collaborative venture that will involve many of the fungal recording groups in the UK. The structure of the Scratchpad is being designed to integrate with other applications, especially the E-monocot project currently running at Kew, and similar websites are planned to underpin collaborations in other parts of the world.
Project partners and collaborators
Natural History Museum, London