Mycology: key achievements 2006 - 2011
The Mycology Team focuses on the systematics, conservation, and ecology of fungi. Systematic and conservation activities primarily involve mushrooms and allies (Agaricomycotina:Agaricomycetes:Basidiomycota) and Ascomycota (including lichens), whereas ecology research is concentrated on mycorrhizal symbioses and insect-fungus associations.
Examples of recent work include DNA barcoding to document diversity of tropical mushrooms and diagnose taxonomic diversity in taxa of conservation concern (e.g., Hygrocybe, Hydnellum, Phellodon, Sarcodon), surveillance of rare and threatened British species, molecular phylogenetics and biogeography of economically valuable mushrooms (e.g., porcini) and research on the ecology and evolution of mushroom-mimicry in Dracula orchids. Our success is demonstrated by our regular publication of papers on mycology, including molecular phylogenetics, descriptions of new species, and monographic studies. We also work to establish and maintain regional checklists and mycotas [e.g., the Checklist of British and Irish Basidiomycota (CBIB)], especially focusing on taxa of conservation concern.
The Mycology Team remains a small group: four core-funded staff (one currently vacant), with one additional senior researcher transitioning from CABI to core in 2012 and another co-funded with Imperial College. Even with this number of people, Kew Mycology has maintained a strong science programme; publications included the description of 27 new taxa (genera and species) and 17 new combinations. In addition, since 2006 the Mycology Team has secured over £100k in external support, most of it in the last two years.
In addition to the Mycology Section, Martin Bidartondo (Imperial College) is based at Kew and contributes to the Mycology Team through mycorrhizal research and fungarium collections-based DNA barcoding projects with students and post-docs. Two Research Associates, of whom one is now based in Beijing, contribute in some specialist areas of taxonomic research, and there are currently two part-time volunteers (each 1 day per week). These regularly contribute to tasks such as databasing and labeling for which staff time is too limited (but still requires staff-time for supervision).
Kew Mycology provides a critical service as a central source of expertise in taxonomic and, increasingly, molecular systematic mycology. Kew mycologists are more or less the only taxonomic experts in the UK to which members of local mycology groups, hospitals with potential mushroom poisoning cases, etc. can turn to for critical identifications or for clarification on other taxonomic and nomenclatural issues. The Mycology Section receives approximately 600 identification enquiries each year, most of which are responded to on a case-by-case and voluntary basis. More recently, molecular systematic studies undertaken by the Mycology team are providing crucial insights into fungal evolution and provide evidence for more natural classifications. This new area for Kew Mycology is expanding on the team’s global impact and this is expected to increase in the coming years.
In addition to recent acquisition of staff that expands on the team’s skills in the application of molecular methods to mycology, the team has a wide range of specialized taxonomic expertise, concentrated primarily in the crown clades of Fungi (Ascomycota and Basidiomycota). For both molecular systematic studies and traditional taxonomy, fieldwork is a critical part of the team’s research and an important source of new material that enhances the value of Kew’s collections. Recent fieldwork conducted by the team includes both local (British Isles) and international (Brazil, Cameroon, Ecuador, Europe, Sarawak) destinations. Many of these expeditions to collect new fungi are made possible through local and global partnerships, which is a key component of both the functioning of and outputs from Kew Mycology.
External links are especially relevant to the Mycology team due to the uniqueness of the team’s skills on a national and international basis. These external links provide the means by which Kew Mycology maintains an international influence, but because Kew Mycology consists of only a small team of core staff, they also provide crucial support by facilitating and bolstering the team’s ability to effectively deliver their scientific output. Substantial external linkages to Kew Mycology are maintained formally with three organizations: Imperial College – with joint support of Martin Bidartondo; Natural England (NE) – with joint support for Martyn Ainsworth as NE’s Senior Specialist (Fungi; he will be fully funded by Kew beginning in 2013); CABI – leading to the transfer of the IMI fungarium and a senior staff member to Kew and also through current maintenance of the CBIB database.
In addition, Kew Mycology has substantial links elsewhere, primarily through collaborative research projects with colleagues at other institutions. Current projects involve partnerships with researchers at Aberystwyth and Cardiff Universities (Wales), Centraalbureau voor Schimmelcultures (CBS; Netherlands), Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (Brazil), Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto, Canada), University of Minnesota (USA), and University of Oregon (USA).
Kew Mycology also has important connections with organizations in the U.K., and a number of associates/long-term visitors make valuable contributions. Kew mycologists provide professional service through editorial appointments at journals and magazines (e.g., Mycologia, Kew Bulletin, Field Mycology) and through council appointments at the British Lichen Society and the Field Mycology and Conservation Committee of the British Mycological Society.
Research outputs from these subjects contribute primarily to Strategy 1 (Accelerating discovery and global access to plant and fungal diversity information) of the Breathing Planet Programme (BPP). In addition, Mycology contributes to projects organised under Strategies 2 (mapping & prioritising), 3 (conservation), 4 (sustainable use), 6 (restoration ecology), and 7 (public interface), the latter especially through enquiries, forays, teaching and specialist expertise.
Conferences and workshops
Kew Mycology was represented by three staff at the 9th International Mycological Congress (IMC9) in Edinburgh, Scotland, who presented on their research.
In 2010, the International Society for Fungal Conservation was established at IMC9. Kew Mycology was one of the key members in the launch of this nascent society, which aims to have fungi recognized internationally as a conservation priority, the first global effort of its kind. One soon-to-be core staff sits on the ISFC Council and is Editor for its journal, and a second core staff is Kew’s official representative in the society. The Mycology Section has also contributed important input to major changes to the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature that were proposed and ratified at the 2011 International Botanical Congress in Melbourne, Australia.
Science Team Leader: Bryn Dentinger
Keep up to date with events and news from Kew