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National Fungi Database Debuts In Cyberspace

New Zealand has a very high number of native fungi species - and a new website launched this week will attempt to collate them all.

The new website http://nzfungi.landcare.cri.nz is hosted by Landcare Research. It holds details of about 5,500 named and currently accepted species of fungi from New Zealand, a figure thought to represent about 30% of this country's fungi. The remaining 70% have yet to be even recorded! To encourage ease of use, the database also includes the thousands of alternative names these fungi are (rightly or wrongly) known by. It also makes available all 68,000 records of fungi held in the New Zealand Fungal Herbarium, at Landcare Research in Auckland (about 42,000 of these are New Zealand native species).

Landcare Research mycologist Dr Peter Buchanan says at this stage the website is geared for use by professionals or keen amateurs. "The general public would get the most use out of it if they know the scientific name of a fungus and want to find out more about it. Our main users are expected to be agencies like MAF, DoC, Crown Research Institutes, and universities.

"However, we want to develop more information for use by the general public and by education, particularly with regard to illustrations, as we eventually want a picture for every entry," Dr Buchanan says.

"It is going to be a massive resource. The information currently available on this website is the foundation of mega development to occur over the next decades. All indigenous and exotic fungi identified in future will be put on this site".

Dr Buchanan says there are good reasons for finding out more about New Zealand's relatively unexplored fungal biodiversity.

"Our economy is based on plants, and plant diseases are caused mostly by fungi or bacteria. Also, 90% of plants have fungi in their roots that help the plant absorb nutrients. Millions of plants could not grow without them.

"Fungi also have major roles in biosecurity, as well as in the deterioration and mouldiness of products and foods. That's not to mention the ecological impacts that would result from losing some of our rarer species of fungi," Dr Buchanan says.

"Fungi are an amazing group of organisms that captivate those who study and promote them. But although fungi far outnumber plants in New Zealand, as elsewhere, botanists far outnumber mycologists. There is generally much less interest and recognition of fungi from scientists and the general public in New Zealand than there is in the Northern Hemisphere.

"I hope that people come to better appreciate that the environment is not just trees, plants, insects, and birds. There is an incredible range of more subtle organisms that are of great importance".

The NZFUNGI website was launched in Auckland at a Workshop on New Zealand Fungi and Bacteria hosted by Landcare Research, with attendees including Ngati Whatua, Tuhoe, and staff from MAF, DoC, several Crown Research Institutes and universities, Foundation for Research Science and Technology, Auckland Hospital, and local authorities.

ENDS

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