The term “conservation” refers to the usage of natural resources in a sustainable manner without any harm towards nature, while keeping its ecosystem services available for biological communities.
Conservation actions can have their focus on species and/or habitats. When aimed at species, these actions reveal the relative threat level of a certain assessed taxon regionally or globally, which allows the application of measures that aim to diminish said threat level and to protect the natural distribution of the studied group. When based on habitats, different locations of interest are established based on various metrics, like species diversity/richness, occurrence of endemic and/or threatened taxa, vulnerability of said habitat, etc.
Fungi (also known as FUNGA) are a vital part of global biodiversity , along with flora, fauna and a multitude of microorganisms. Together, these groupings may be subjected to population decline and extinction due to climate change, pollution, commercial activity, logging, habitat destruction, etc.
Historically, fungi are neglected in conservation acts due to a variety of factors related to their biology, which make the application of the necessary criteria for threat level assessment very difficult. Among these factors, fungi “crypticity” (regarding the fact that fungi spend a major part of their life cycle only with their somatic structures active, generally not visible to the naked eye) and indefinite growth patterns (feature that makes the delimitation of individual specimens very difficult) can be highlighted. Along with those, we have a very significant sparseness of specialists with the capability to identify and establish new taxonomic species, which is essential to assess the threat level of a certain organism more precisely.
The threat level faced by each species, either at global or regional level, can be classified following the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Criteria. These assessed levels are, then, published on the IUCN’ s Global Red List, or on lists at nacional and/or regional spheres that can or cannot follow the same criteria and classification parameters adopted by the organization. From this assessment, protective measures and acts can be defined, helping the creation/application of laws that grant habitat protection, management of resources and areas, etc., to endangered species. Among these measures, within the brazilian territory, we can underline the National Program for the Conservation of Threatened Species – Pro-Species, that has the goal to implement public policies and boost initiatives, which aim to reduce threat levels and improve the conservation status of species classified as Critically Endangered (CR) through Territorial Action Plans (TAPs) and National Action Plans (NAPs).
The IUCN Global Red List initiative began in 1960, and only at the beginning of the 2000s, after more than four decades, the first fungi species were included, two of them lichenized [Cladonia perforata A. Evans e Erioderma pedicellatum (Hue) P.M.Jørg.] and one of them a mushroom [Pleurotus nebrodensis (Inzenga) Quél.].
These three species remained as the only fungi taxa in the list until the year 2015.
In 2018, the Global Red List of Threatened Species included 56 fungi and lichens, which represents a clear gap in relation to the kingdom’s known and/or projected richness, and to the number of assessed species of plants and animals. Currently, there are more than 600 hundred species of fungi in the IUCN ‘s Global Red List, being that almost half of them are threatened to some degree. Although the number of assessed species is still small, there is a clear improvement in terms of effort for the assessment of endangered fungi. This increase happened mainly due to the recent proposition to operationalize the application of the criteria for fungi species threat assessment (Dahlberg & Mueller 2011), the creation of the “Global Fungal Red List Initiative (GFRLI)”, and the implementation of many workshops for the assessment of possibly endangered fungi species distributed around the globe. For more information about the present status of already assessed and published species on the Global Red List, watch the video located at the bottom of this paragraph. It comprises a synthesis of the data and analysis used in the article written by Mueller et al. 2022, that discloses about the meaning and importance of this recent growth in fungal species threat assessment. (https://www.mdpi.com/1424-2818/14/9/736).
In Brazil, during the V Brazilian Mycology Congress (Recife, 2007), a decision was made in order to create a group focusing on the conservation of fungal diversity, with the intent to generate a national red list of fungal organisms following IUCN ’s criteria. More than one decade later, the first threatened species occurring in national territory were published in the IUCN ‘s red list. During the “1st South American fungal red list workshop”, 32 brazilian fungi species were assessed and, afterwards, published on the global red list.
In 2021, under the coordination of the MIND.Funga team, with the participation of 15 mycologysts/lichenologysts from various parts of Brazil and with the support of the Comission for the Survival of Fungi Species from IUCN, the The 1st Brazilian Workshop on Fungal Species Assessment for the IUCN Global Red List (https://mindfunga.ufsc.br/english-1st-brazilian-workshop-on-assessing-fungal-species-for-the-iucn-global-red-list/). Towards the end of the event, a list of 50 species was indicated for assessment, from which 20 were already published on the Global Red List (or are currently in the process of publication).
Even though these national range actions represent a substantial advance in terms of brazilian fungi conservation, species conservation in general depends on actions that confront the challenges surrounding their extinction through different strategies, all of them with equal importance and connected between themselves. These strategies can be represented by a “tripod” scheme, with actions aimed at the recognition of threatened species (ASSESSMENT), planning of measures for their protection (PLANNING) and concrete actions for their preservation (ACTION), all of that supported by the establishment of a tight network of people and scientific information.
The aforementioned species threat level assessment process is directly related with two limiting situations: (i) the lack of knowledge about the diversity, composition and biology of fungi species registered in fragile and/or threatened ecosystems (such as cloud forests) and; (ii) the absence of legal mechanisms for fungi conservation at national level, made clear by the lack of legislation involving the creation of a brazilian fungi red list, and other measures such as forest management control, natural area protection, etc.
The MIND.Funga’ s team solve the impacts of those limitations through the execution of research projects that aim to know the diversity of fungi that inhabit the South Brazilian Cloud Forests (MIND.Funga – From endangered macrofungi from Cloud Forests of Santa Catarina research to the innovation on the species identification and MicroEco: Microbial Diversity, Ecosystem Services of the Soil Microbiome and Ecosystem Conservation), as well as more specific studies about known to be threatened species (Conservation of mountain biodiversity: Efforts to understand Fomitiporia nubicola distribution, a Drimys exclusive fungus from threatened cloud forest and First efforts to preserve Wrightoporia araucariae, a rare and critically endangered species endemic to Araucaria forests), with the main goal to gather information about the occurrence and biology of these species through the investigation of their potential areas of distribution. In relation to the lack of national legislation that includes the Fungi kingdom, MIND.Funga has acted in the articulation with regional and national environmental agencies, while also having representatives in a IUCN fungi specialist group (BrazFunSG) that has taking fungi conservation demands to the qualified authorities as one of their priorities. Simultaneously, to make sure that fungi gain space inside the academic and societal environments, and consequently have more chances for them to be defended, our group also acts in the organization of events surrounding conservation of species. (1st Symposium of Fungal Diversity and Conservation in Cloud Forests (Brazil, 2021), Program: Citizen Science and Science communication (@MIND.Funga).
Finally, MIND.Funga has also dedicated their more concrete actions towards threatened species conservation. One of our conservation strategies is ex situ conservation, a.k.a outside of the species original locality. For fungi, one of the possibilities for ex situ conservation is the culture of species in vitro, in which the fungi are cultivated in controlled lab conditions. With that, the team is working to create the first culture collection of endangered fungi species from Brazil, having as a starting point the critically endangered species Wrightoporia araucariae through the “First efforts to preserve Wrightoporia araucariae, a rare and critically endangered species endemic to Araucaria forests” project, and other species from south brazilian high altitude areas.