Exploring the science of plants, from the field to the lab

Mission Possible: NYBG Scientists Boost Conservation of Fungi

Posted in Interesting Plant Stories on August 11, 2015 by Science Talk

Jessica L. Allen is a graduate student in the Commodore Matthew Perry Graduate Studies Program, and James C. Lendemer, Ph.D., is an Assistant Curator at the Institute of Systematic Botany, both at The New York Botanical Garden. Lichens, which include a fungal component, are their primary research interest.

Healthy community of diverse lichens growing on a mature Fraser fir that remains alive.
Healthy community of diverse lichens growing on a mature Fraser fir that remains alive.

Every day, thousands of fungal species throughout the United States perform essential jobs all around us for free. They are vast networks, above and below ground, that facilitate nutrient transportation, form soil, provide natural fertilizers, and add delightful variety to our diets. If fungi went on strike, everybody would notice.

In the United States approximately 10 percent of fish and mammals are protected by the Endangered Species Act, including such American icons as the bald eagle and the American paddlefish. Yet fungi, which constitute an entire kingdom in the scientific classification of species, are effectively excluded from the dialogue. Of the nearly 40,000 known fungal species in North America, only two are protected by the Endangered Species Act!

Is it because we know so little Are there no threats to fungi? Are fungi immune to the threats posed to plants and animals? As is outlined in a recent issue of Endangered Species Research, the answer to all of these questions is a definite “No.”

In fact, there are many fungi that we know are threatened and could be conserved by direct action. You can read the full paper here.

Are you concerned? Become an advocate for fungi.

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To learn more about these amazing, diverse and important organisms, follow the links below:

Garden writer Margaret Roach interviews Dr. Lendemer on her radio program and podcast A Way to Garden.

Science writer Flora Lichtman interviews Dr. Lendemer and Jessica Allen on The Adaptors podcast.

Ms. Allen and Dr. Lendemer write about an experimental transplant of lichen in the Thain Family Forest at The New York Botanical Garden.