Fungi refers to the Kingdom Fungi, comprising organisms such as mushrooms, puffballs, coral fungi, bracket fungi, moulds, mildews and rust fungi. There are also fungal-like organisms in the Protoctisa (slime moulds) and Chromista (water moulds). Fungi usually grow as threads called hyphae and reproduce by spores. Fungi are heterotrophic, gaining carbon nutrition through a range of nutritional strategies, including parasitism (of plants, animals and other fungi), saprotrophism (breaking down dead organic material such as wood) and mutualism (such as lichens or mycorrhizas).
Macrofungi are those with easily visible sporophores (fruiting bodies; such as mushrooms), whereas, for microfungi (such as many moulds), the whole organism is not readily visible. Sporophores are often short-lived, but the growing body of the fungus persists as microscopic hyphae within substrates such as soil, plant leaves or the gut of invertebrates. Lichens are fungi that grow in stable association with photosynthetic algae or cyanobacteria. Complex relationships have recently been revealed, with some lichens comprising multiorganism partnerships between algae, several species of fungi and bacteria.
Fungimap was founded in 1995 as a mapping scheme for readily recognisable species of Australian macrofungi, such as blue pixie’s parasol (Mycena interrupta; Figure BIO18) and curry punk (Piptoporus australiensis). Since then, more than 100,000 observations have been submitted to Fungimap by a network of hundreds of recorders around Australia.
More than 350,000 records of fungi are now accessible through the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA). The ALA brings together observations and distribution data from specimens of fungi in reference collections, such as culture collections and fungaria. The ALA provides maps of each species, and a spatial portal that enables exploration of distribution against climate, soil and other environmental variables.
Regional fungal studies groups around Australia are also contributing data to Fungimap or directly to the ALA. The recent creation of online nature observation portals such as BowerBird and NatureShare is providing a forum for discussion about identification, and stimulating interest in recording groups such as fungi and invertebrates, while providing further data to the ALA.
This unprecedented generation of, and access to, fungi data reveals widespread distribution patterns for many fungi, including detail of outliers and fragmentation. In addition, the ALA data confirm the rarity of some rare and threatened species of fungi. Fungimap has recently implemented a rare species database to allow more detailed tracking of location, population size and microdistribution of individuals for rare and threatened species such as tea-tree fingers (Hypocreopsis amplectens).
Ready access to fungi data through the ALA by a wide community (including land managers, researchers, naturalists and students) is in turn stimulating recording and collecting of fungi. The next step is to increase understanding of the requirements of each fungus in terms of host, substrate and habitat, to facilitate effective management. In addition, fungi distribution data accessible through the ALA will underpin comprehensive threat assessments for Australian fungi.