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Fungal foragers head for the hills

Fungal foragers head for the hills

The 17th annual New Zealand Fungal Foray is about to get underway, this time in the Kaimai Ranges near the Bay of Plenty town of Katikati - an area that has never undergone a systematic scientific search for fungi before.

The Fungal Foray attracts participants from both the science world and the general public, from New Zealand and overseas. Landcare Research mycologists (fungal scientists) established the foray during the 1980s, and it is held every autumn in a different region of New Zealand.

Species are collected with landowners' permission, and are laid out for identification at the end of each Foray day. The specimens are later preserved and stored in recognised national collections to be used by researchers worldwide.

Landcare Research mycologist Dr Peter Buchanan says this year's participants will primarily search Department of Conservation land in the Kaimai Forest Park for fungal specimens. They will also find fungi in a Carter Holt Harvey pine forest, and will cross to Matakana Island near Tauranga to scour the sand dunes. "Many people do not associate fungi with sand," says Dr Buchanan. "However, some fungi live only in sand or can be found on half buried pieces of wood. Matakana Island is a particularly good place to find them."

The Fungal Forays are an important aid for scientists to get to grips with the vast array of New Zealand fungi. About 6,000 species have been recorded and described here, many of which are found only in New Zealand. An estimated 14,000 are yet to be discovered.

Landcare Research mycologist Dr Peter Johnston says at every new forest the Foray travels to, up to 90% of fungi collected were not previously recorded in that part of the country.

"At last year's Foray near Haast, 215 species were collected, and 195 had not been seen in the area before. A few were entirely new species, not seen anywhere else in the world before."

"We remain keen to enlist the public's help in searching out new fungi, and enhancing our knowledge of the distribution of fungi that we have already recorded.

"With the help of the Fungal Foray, we expect that within the next 10 to 20 years we will have a clear overview of the fungal species present in healthy forests, and conversely of species that may indicate poor forest health."

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