Our response published in Science!
A few weeks ago, Cao et al. (2021) published a letter in Science, about including macrofungi in the post-2020 global biodiversity targets, which will be agreed upon at the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). This meeting is anticipated to be the most important UN Biodiversity Conference of this decade. Great, awesome! But, uh, why just the macrofungi? What’s wrong with microfungi? It’s not because we cannot see them, that microfungi aren’t important. Right? And so before we knew it, we were drafting a formal response to Cao et al.’s letter, which, to our delight, was accepted within a few days time.
Gonçalves SC, Haelewaters D, Furci G, Mueller GM. 2021. Include all fungi in biodiversity goals. Science 373(6553): 403. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abj5479. [pdf]
This is the complete letter:
We applaud the call for mycologists and decision-makers to seize the opportunity to include macrofungi in the post-2020 global biodiversity targets (“Include macrofungi in biodiversity targets,” Y. Cao et al., Letters, 11 June, p. 1160). It is shocking that only a meager 425 of the millions of fungal species on the planet have been evaluated for The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species (1, 2). However, the fact that most of the fungi assessed on the IUCN Red List are macrofungi—those forming easily observed spore-bearing structures above- or belowground (3)—reflects a bias toward well-known species that hinders efforts to characterize global extinction risk for fungi (4). Microfungi deserve equal consideration.
Although people associate fungi with mushrooms, most fungi do not produce reproductive structures visible to the human eye. For example, the vitally important arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi colonize the roots of 80% of all plants, a symbiosis that helped plants establish on land (5). Molds, such as those from which penicillin was isolated, are also microfungi (6). Saccharomyces yeasts, which give us bread, beer, and wine, are single-celled (7, 8).
Lack of knowledge about which fungi are most at risk of extinction hampers our ability to inform conservation actions to support those species and ultimately provide fungi-based solutions to tackle pressing global challenges (9). Therefore, we are calling for the parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) later this year to explicitly include all fungi in the designated targets. Most working documents discuss the conservation of flora and fauna (10); incorporating the funga (11) will write Kingdom Fungi into conservation frameworks while unlocking funding for mycological research, surveys, and educational programs (12). Fungi underpin all life on Earth. We cannot afford to neglect them in our efforts to halt biodiversity loss.
References and Notes
1. D. L. Hawksworth, R. Lücking, Microbiol. Spectr. 5, FUNK-0052–2016 (2017).
2. “The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2021-1” (International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2021).
3. G. M. Mueller et al., Biodivers. Conserv. 16, 37 (2007).
4. E. Nic Lughadha et al., Plants People Planet 2, 389 (2020).
5. W. R. Rimington et al., Proc. R. Soc. B 285, 20181600 (2018).
6. J. Houbraken, J. C. Frisvad, R. A. Samson, IMA Fungus 2, 87 (2011).
7. B. Gallone et al., Cell 166, 1397 (2016).
8. P. J. Boynton, D. Greig, Yeast 31, 449 (2014).
9. A. Antonelli et al., “State of the world's plants and fungi 2020” (Royal Botanic Gardens, 2020).
10. Convention on Biological Diversity, “Update of the zero draft of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework” (2020); www.cbd.int/doc/c/3064/749a/0f65ac7f9def86707f4eaefa/post2020-prep-02-01-en.pdf.
11. F. Kuhar, G. Furci, E. R. Drechsler-Santos, D. H. Pfister, IMA Fungus 9, 71 (2018).
12. G. Furci, M. Sheldrake, C. Rodríguez-Garavito, “Fungi are critical to human, ecosystem, and planetary well-being: It's time to include them within conservation frameworks,” FaunaFloraFunga (2021); www.faunaflorafunga.org/.