State of the World’s Fungi

SOTWF bannerFew institutions would have the audacity to attempt to summarize the State of the World’s Fungi (SOTWF), but the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew did just that last week, with an international symposium intended to illustrate the current status not only of fungi, but of mycology. The attendees were almost all professional mycologists and students, but the real intended audience was journalists, policy makers, and the general public. By that measure, the symposium was a success, with media coverage in outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, NPR, and of course the BBC and the Guardian. It was a thrill to speak at Kew, the home institution of Joseph Hooker and keeper of the herbarium of the Reverend M. J. Berkeley. One hopes that the SOTWF symposium will raise awareness of the importance of fungi among the public and support for mycology at Kew and elsewhere.

I spoke in a session provocatively titled “When does a molecular signature become a species?” (spoiler alert: the answer is “never”). My talk was called “Who gets to name fungi?” (to download the slides, click here). Other O.K. Miller-lineage speakers in that session included Tim James and Cathie Aime, along with Tuula Niskanen, from Kew. Romina Gazis , our former post-doc from Open Tree of Life days (and now Assistant Professor at the University of Florida), gave a talk in the session “Do fungi provide a greater ecosystem service or disservice?”. I believe that all the talks will eventually be available streaming on the symposium website.

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While in London, I visited Darwin’s Down House (and his grave in Westminster Abby). Other than Cyttaria, Darwin did not have much to do with fungi, and his daughter Henrietta (Aunt Etty) famously disposed of stinkhorns on the grounds, to protect “the morals of the maids”. A sign barring entry to the “fungus field” behind the house at Downe indicates that mycophobia is still a problem in England. Maybe the SOTWF symposium will change that.


The Fungi field at Down House.