Conservation Mycology

The fungal kingdom is hyper-diverse and under-documented, but fungi play vital roles in ecosystems as decomposers and mutualists. Consequently, it is just as important to conserve fungi as other more visible life forms. Over the last two decades, considerable progress has been made in the methodology of formal assessments of the conservation status of fungi. Formal assessments can stimulate a focus on the conservation of specific fungi, and ways to ameliorate and manage threats to them. Overall, habitat loss and climate change are the most significant threats to fungi, but threats to mutualist partners are also of concern.

At present, few Australian fungi are formally listed on national or state conservation schedules. Mycologists at Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria contribute to efforts to improve the conservation status of fungi, through research, engagement with policy initiatives, and participation in groups such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Mushroom, Puffball and Bracket Specialist Group and the Australasian Fungi Conservation Group  of the Australasian Mycological Society.

Conservation mycology is an emerging discipine that draws on taxonomy, ecology, biogeography, demography, and population genetics. Conservation mycology, as with conservation science in general, is multidisciplinary and encompasses anthropology, sociology, and political science. One of the main current goals of conservation mycology is to develop a research agenda that contributes to effective fungal conservation. Questions of interest include:

  • How to use ecological knowledge for the 10% of fungi named to effectively conserve all fungi?
  • Are there effective surrogates for fungi in monitoring and reserve design (either other fungi or other biota)?
  • How does the grain and patchiness of fungal communities (at micro and landscape scales) affect efforts at conserving them via surrogates?
  • How to standardize monitoring of fungi for use in policy-mandated surveys such as environmental impact assessments?
  • How to best detect and monitor rare fungi (including absences) by integrating surveys of sporing bodies and metabarcoding?
  • What are effective management practices for fungi (e.g., in silviculture, or in relation to fire or grazing regimes) and how do these compare with existing practices developed for habitats, plants, or animals?
  • What are the pros and cons of different management settings that aim to integrate management of fungi with that of other biota, and when is it more appropriate to focus on fungi as a group, or individual species of fungi?
  • How do life history characteristics (population size, turnover, size of individuals, etc.) vary across fungal morphogroups, lineages, and guilds and how to measure these?
  • How to challenge and mitigate negative attitudes about fungi among the public, land managers, and policy developers?
  • How to engage foragers in conservation (collecting and eating fungi is major point of contact with fungi in many societies)?

Current Projects

Conservation research for Tea-tree Fingers is a two-year project to carry out research on the biology of the critically endangered fungus Tea-tree Fingers (Hypocreopsis amplectens) that informs management of the species.

Previous Activities

Australasian Fungi Red List Workshop – July 22–26, 2019

As part of the Global Fungal Red List Initiative, Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria ed a Red Listing Workshop for Australasian Fungi in July 2019. At this workshop the conservation status of species of fungi from the Australasian region, including Australia, New Caledonia and New Zealand, was assessed, along with a few species from other regions. Assessments were made using criteria developed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Experts in fungal conservation in attendance included Gregory Mueller (Chicago Botanic Garden, U.S.A.), Janet Scott (International Union for Conservation of Nature, U.K.), Anders Dahlberg (Swedish Species Information Centre - Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences), Giuliana Furci (Fundación Fungi, Chile), Andrew Ngadin (Universiti Malaysia Terengganu), Peter Buchanan (Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research, N.Z.), and Tom May (Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria). As a result, 58 species of Australasian, Asian and South American fungi were added to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The workshop was also an opportunity for capacity building and networking, with participants attending from fungal studies groups and conservation agencies across Australasia.


The Australasian Fungi Red List Workshop is supported by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Mohamed bin Zayed Conservation Fund, Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research and Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria.


May, T.W., Cooper, J.A., Dahlberg, A., Furci, G., Minter, D.W., Mueller, G.M., Pouliot, A. and Yang, Z. 2018. Recognition of the discipline of conservation mycology. Conservation Biology 33, 73–76.

Pouliot, A., May, T., McMullan-Fisher, S., Buchanan, P., Allison, L. and Packer, J. (2014). It's time for a Global Strategy for Plant and Fungus Conservation. Australasian Plant Conservation 22(4), 22–23.

May, T.W. and McMullan-Fisher, S.J.M. (2012). Don't be afraid of the F-word: prospects for integrating fungi into biodiversity monitoring. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria 124, 79–90.

May, T.W. (2011). How do fungi fare in Australia's Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010–2030? Fungimap Newsletter 44, 6–7.

McMullan-Fisher, S.J.M., Kirkpatrick, J.B., May, T.W. and Pharo, E.J. (2010). Surrogates for macrofungal and mosses in reservation planning. Conservation Biology 24, 730–736.

Pouliot, A.M. and May, T.W. (2010). The third ‘F’ – fungi in Australian biodiversity conservation: actions, issues and initiatives. Mycologica Balcanica 7, 41–48

Syme, K. and May, T. (2005). Fungi in conservation and management at the catchment and bioregion level. Australasian Plant Conservation 14(1), 8–9.

May, T. (2005). Looking after the bad guys: the conservation of pathogenic fungi. Australasian Plant Conservation 13(4), 20–21.

Buchanan, P.K. and May, T.W. (2003). Conservation of New Zealand and Australian Fungi. New Zealand Journal of Botany 41, 407–421.

May, T., New, T., Walsh, N. and Yen, A. (2003). The Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act and the conservation of lesser known groups of biota. Victorian Naturalist 120, 246–260.

May, T.W. and Avram, J. (1997). The Conservation Status and Distribution Macrofungi in Victoria. Report prepared for the Australian Heritage Commission