Introduction

Compared with vascular plants and many groups of animals, the conservation of fungi has received limited interest. Very few nature reserves have been declared in order to conserve fungal biodiversity (see Anonymous, 2004), and the number

British Mycological Society Symposia Series © 2008 The British Mycological Society

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Estimated number of species globally Figure 1 The relation between estimated global species numbers and hits returned by the article database offered by Web of Science® covering most peer-revived scientific journals using the search string "conservation and X not gene'', where X denotes the name of a particular organism group included in the figure. Not all hits returned by the search string represented articles actually dealing with nature conservation, focussing on the particular organism group. Irrelevant hits were not sorted out in any group, and, similarly, no efforts were made to trace conservation relevant articles not picked up by the search string. The dashed lines Indicate different ratios between estimated species numbers and database hits. The search was carried out on 22nd September 2006 (Updated from Heilmann-Clausen, 2003).

of scientific publications dealing with conservation of fungi is comparatively low but increasing (Figures 1 and 2). The European Council for the Conservation of Fungi (ECCF) was founded in 1985. In 2001, the council suggested a list of 33 macromycetes to be included in the annexes of the Bern Convention as worthy of protection at the European level (Dahlberg and Croneborg, 2003). If the suggestion had been accepted by the European Union Habitat Committee all 33 species would have been included in EU nature monitoring programmes under Natura 2000, but the suggestion was dismissed and no fungi are currently protected at the European scale. As a slight concession, the EU Commission has published a report giving detailed information on all 33 species (Dahlberg and Croneborg, 2006), claiming that they ''certainly deserve the attention of conservation agencies''. At the national scale, official initiatives to protect specific fungi have been launched in some countries (e.g. Antonin and Bieberova, 1995; Naturvardsverket, 2006; UK Biodiversity Action Plan, 2006), but in many countries fungi are still completely neglected in official nature conservation programmes. A major obstacle for fungal conservation may be that fungi are not considered attractive and worthy of protection by the general public in the western world. Unlike furry animals, butterflies and orchids they do not awake an immediate protective response. Rather, people tend to perceive fungi as representative of darkness, decay and death.

Year

Figure 2 The number of hits returned by the article database offered by Web of Science® using the search string ''fungi and conservation not gene'' from 1991 to 2005. Not all hits returned by the search string represented articles actually dealing with nature conservation, focussing on the particular organism group. Irrelevant hits were not sorted out in any group, and, similarly, no efforts were made to trace conservation relevant articles not picked up by the search string. The search was carried out on 22nd September 2006.

Year

Figure 2 The number of hits returned by the article database offered by Web of Science® using the search string ''fungi and conservation not gene'' from 1991 to 2005. Not all hits returned by the search string represented articles actually dealing with nature conservation, focussing on the particular organism group. Irrelevant hits were not sorted out in any group, and, similarly, no efforts were made to trace conservation relevant articles not picked up by the search string. The search was carried out on 22nd September 2006.

Fungal communities are more difficult to investigate for assessment of conservation than vascular plants and some animal communities. With macrofungi, sporocarps indicate presence of a species, but they do not indicate which species are present that are not fruiting. Sporocarp production is typically highly variable in intensity and timing between years, and it may take decades to record all species fruiting at a particular site (Watling, 1995; Straatsma et al., 2001; Chapter 5). In addition, species with competitive or stress-tolerant strategies (see Chapter 11) may put considerably less energy into sporocarp production, compared with more ruderal species, and hence are likely to be systematically under-represented at sporocarp level. Considerable differences in species composition between sporo-carps and mycorrhizal roots have been reported (Gardes and Bruns, 1996; Peter et al., 2001b), and also studies of decomposer fungi in dead wood have shown that sporocarp-based inventories may not adequately reflect the diversity and community structure at the mycelial level (Allmer et al., 2005). Knowledge of population dynamics in fungi is poor: very simple data relating to average lifespan and size of mycelia, population sizes and dispersal dynamics are missing or very scarce for the vast majority of species, making estimation of population trends and extinction risks difficult. Finally, many groups of macrofungi are still poorly resolved taxonomically. Even in well-investigated regions like Europe the taxonomy of important groups of decomposer basidiomycetes, e.g. Pluteus and Psathyrella, is far from resolved, and in many other regions, e.g. the tropics, a basic understanding of species diversity is only starting to emerge.

Techniques for sampling fungi at the mycelial level are steadily improving, especially with the development of efficient PCR techniques allowing direct identification of fungi in soil and wood samples (Vainio and Hantula, 2000; Pennanen et al., 2001; Allmer et al., 2005). Molecular techniques are increasingly applied to increase insight into population sizes and dynamics in fungi, to explore the dynamics of mycelia development, activity and sporocarp formation and to increase phylogenetic resolution in poorly known species groups. In relation to management and monitoring they are less relevant at present, because they are labour intensive and unsuited for detection of species occurring with very low frequencies (Allmer et al., 2005). In addition, sampling is more or less destructive, which may be a problem in relation to endangered species. In contrast, sporocarp surveys are generally non-destructive and allow investigation of many hectares of habitat in a single day, depending on how conspicuous are the sporocarps of the species in question. Sporocarp-based and molecular techniques should thus be seen as complementary rather than mutually exclusive in conservation mycology.

Here we review the most important approaches to use of fungi as focal species in conservation. Problems connected with evaluation of extinction risk for fungi by applying the criteria of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) are discussed; as is the use of fungi as indicator species of valuable habitats. Decomposer, grassland fungi and sap-roxylic (wood-inhabiting) fungi are used to illustrate practical challenges and possibilities in conservation mycology.

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