A fungal monitoring project in Honduras: community ecology and taxonomy


Discovery of fungal biodiversity is ongoing with only 3-10% of the estimated 1.5 – 6 million species currently described. While biodiversity discoveries can be made anywhere, like for plants and animals, increased diversity and endemicity of soil fungi in many groups is concentrated in tropical environments, which generally have seen less formal scientific collecting than temperate regions. Beyond species discovery and inventories, documenting fungi allows comparisons with future data, which may be relevant for conservation planning. This is important as increasing calls are made to include fungi in conservation assessments and goals, yet baseline data is needed to evaluate the conservation status of fungal species. An effort to document the fungi in one tropical location, Cusuco National Park, began in 2019, in cooperation with Operation Wallacea. The park is a 23,440-ha protected area in the Merendón mountain range in northwestern Honduras with elevations ranging from 500 to 2,242 and various vegetation communities, including those dominated by ectomycorrhizal Pinus and Quercus species. Preliminary collecting in 2019 showed several species of fungi that may be new to science.


Biodiversity data on Honduran fungi is lacking, even compared with other Central American countries such as Panama and Costa Rica. Additionally, long-term fungal monitoring projects in the tropics that can detect rare species and monitor more common species in the face of climate change and increased risk of extinction are mostly non-existent. Finally, it is unclear if any environments are particularly species rich, nor what biotic and/or abiotic factors in general may drive fungal species richness and abundance.


A long-term fungal monitoring project began in Cusuco National Park in 2022 following incidental collecting in 2019. First, this student will join this project during the 2023 summer field season, learning fungal collection, identification, and processing skills in a remote location. Second, data from the 2022 and 2023 field seasons will be used to examine biotic and abiotic factors that may drive fungal diversity in Cusuco National Park, such as elevation, soil density, canopy cover, and presence of Pinus species. Finally, the student will have the opportunity to describe new species found during their fieldwork. The student will become familiar with analyzing biodiversity data and modern taxonomy and systematics in mycology. By completing this project, the student will continue biodiversity exploration of Honduras fungi that may be used in the future for conservation purposes, describe new species, and determine the drivers of fungal diversity in Cusuco National Park.


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.abk1312 [pdf]

Halme P, Heilmann-Clausen J, Rämä T, Kosonen T, Kunttu P. 2012. Monitoring fungal biodiversity – towards an integrated approach. Fungal Ecology 5(6): 750–758. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.funeco.2012.05.005

Haelewaters D, Schoutteten N, Medina-van Berkum P, Martin TE, Verbeken A, Aime MC. 2021. Pioneering a fungal inventory at Cusuco National Park, Honduras. Journal of Mesoamerican Biology 1(1): 111-131. [pdf]

Martin TE, Jones SEI, Creedy TJ, Hoskins HMJ, McCann NP, Batke SP, Kelly DL, Kolby JE, Downing R, Zelaya SMS, Green SEW, Lonsdale G, Brown T, Waters S, Rodríguez-Vásquez F, McCravy KW, D’Souza ML, Crace D, Nuñez-Mino JM, Haelewaters D, Medina-van Berkum P, Phipps CD, Barker RJ, Castañeda F, Reid N, Jocqué M. 2021. A review of the ecological value of Cusuco National Park: an urgent call for conservation action in a highly threatened Mesoamerican cloud forest. Journal of Mesoamerican Biology 1(1): 6-50. [pdf]

Blog post: http://www.dannyhaelewaters.com/long-term-fungal-inventory-honduras/