The Wild Fungi DNA Project is a joint project involving partner organisations MYCOmmunity, Science for All, BioQuisitive, Wombat Forestcare, Melton Botanic Garden and others. Our aim is to develop protocols and train citizen-scientists to use Environmental DNA (eDNA) to search for rare and endangered fungi.
Very little is known about Australian native fungi. Only 5% percent of the estimated 250,000 species have even been described. In most cases their life-cycle, including generation length and frequency and triggers of fruiting, are not well understood. Yet most of the data about their ecological distribution is based on sightings of fruiting bodies. This makes it extremely difficult to determine which fungi are in need of protection.
DNA technology has recently become significantly cheaper and more accessible. By using eDNA to search for rare fungi from soil, litter and other environmental samples can generate a more accurate assessment of their prevalence in the environment without relying on visual identification, which is a cumbersome seasonal constraint and becoming less common with climate warming. Data generated will be used to assess fungi for the IUCN threatened species list. In addition, this data will provide insights into the distribution of fungi and infer effects of disturbances caused by fire, land clearing, and climate change, as well as the relationships between fungi and other native species. Together, the data generated will improve land management and mitigation strategies that can help protect our native species.
Currently, most of the distribution data on fungi has been gathered by citizen-scientists through projects such as the Atlas of Living Australia and Fungimap. Among citizen-mycologists there is a growing interest in using DNA technology, however in Australia there is currently no accessible avenue for this to happen. By providing training and access to DNA sequencing technologies, this interest could be directed towards research that is extremely valuable for science and conservation.
While the majority of the project is funded by a grant, COVID-19 has severely impacted our ability to raise any money to cover unexpected expenses. It has also affected our partner organisation the BioQuisitive laboratory who generously offered us free use of their equipment and facilities and on which this project depends. By becoming a Wild Fungi DNA project supporter you will contribute towards:
- Ongoing expenses of about $650 per month including consumables and helping with rent for the BioQuisitive laboratory.
- We would also like to raise a further $4000 for a fluorometer and $8000 for a spectrophotometer. These instruments would allow us todo all of our DNA preparation in-house.