The lost and found fungi project

Originally published on Kew.org

Kew support for the amateur fungus recording community is helping improve awareness of, and baseline data for, some of the UK’s most rarely recorded fungi. As we reach the final full year of recording for the Lost and Found Fungi project we assess the project’s successes so far.

By Oliver Ellingham, Brian Douglas, Martyn Ainsworth and Paul Cannon

new fungus species

Kew raising the profile of rare or potentially under-recorded fungi

The Lost and Found Fungi project (LAFF) is a volunteer-based fungal conservation project running from 2014-2019, coordinated at Kew, supported by the British Mycological Society and the British Lichen Society, and funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. It aims to increase awareness, recording, and knowledge of 100 rarely-recorded fungi of conservation concern (LAFF100) in the UK. At the same time, the project hopes to promote the development of knowledge, skills, and engagement with rarely recorded species amongst the UK’s amateur fungus recording community.

The LAFF100 list contains something for everyone, including distinctive mushrooms, puffballs, brackets, smut and rust fungi, tiny cup fungi, leaf-spot parasites, lichenised fungi, and more. Each fungus has its own strangely beautiful fruiting bodies and mysterious ecology. The species have also been selected for many different other reasons, including not having been recorded in the UK for over 50 years, or known from only a few sites; new species to science; new (potentially invasive) arrivals; species of current conservation concern; and species restricted to rare plants and habitats. They can be found in many different habitats, from dune systems to mountain plateaus, bogs, calcareous marshes, ancient woodland, orchards, or urban areas and gardens.

Over the past three and a half years The Lost and Found Fungi project has been encouraging people to look out for the LAFF100 in their areas, to check sites of historical records, and survey known sites. We’ve also been joining recording groups and individuals in their surveys across the UK. 

LAFF100 species

Recording results so far

The LAFF curated dataset of non-lichenised fungi collected since July 2014 now stands at around 1000 new records of 65 species, individually curated and supported by voucher material and photographs where possible. These records, gathered over three and a half years, now comprise around 25% of known records and sites for these species in Great Britain and Ireland and are an impressive testament to the fungi-hunting skills of the UK’s field mycologists. These records will help establish a robust baseline distribution for the LAFF100, increase our knowledge of their identities and ecology, and underpin forthcoming Red List conservation assessments.

Visits to fungus recording groups

Field trips are some of the most enjoyable parts of the project, and throughout the project, Kew mycologists have been privileged to visit recording groups across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Most recently they visited the Cornwall Fungus Recording Group as the ‘Beast from the East’ settled upon the country, facing challenging and frosty fungus-hunting conditions during the first three days of their visit. Thankfully, expert guidance from their hosts ensured that they found plenty of fungi for a 2-day microscope workshop at the end of the week, as well as successfully surveying for several LAFF species. Unfortunately, the snow soon descended, cutting their time and number of participants for microscope and identification training in half. Nevertheless, it was a rewarding and enjoyable week with some interesting finds. 

fungus finding volunteers

Some LAFF success stories

Each LAFF100 fungi has its own story, and we’ve seen these develop during the Lost and Found Fungi project:

  • Species not seen for over 50 or even 100 years in Great Britain and Ireland have been rediscovered, such as Sporomega degenerans, an immersed discomycete fruiting on dead stems of Vaccinium uliginosum (bog bilberry); and Ustanciosporium gigantosporum and U. majus, smut fungi in the ovaries of Rhynchospora alba (white beak sedge).
  • Some “rare” species now appear much more common than previously thought, such as Puccinia cladii, a rust fungus on leaves of Cladium mariscus, and Mollisia fuscoparaphysata, a tiny cup fungus on leaves of Trichophorum (deer grass).
  • Many species still seem to be rare and vulnerable, but their populations appear far healthier than past records suggest, such as the marsh honey fungus Armillaria ectypa, and the fen puffball Bovista paludosa.
  • The arboriculture community has helped find fungi associated with veteran or old trees, resulting in many new records of Podoscypha multizonata (zoned rosette), and Sarcodontia crocea, a pineapple-scented toothy crust on old apple trees.
  • The project has described new species, such as the new marram oyster Hohenbuehelia bonii (Ainsworth et al., 2016), and a new big blue pinkgill Entoloma atromadidum (previously considered to be Entoloma bloxamii), redetermining a sizable proportion of Kew’s collections of this group in the process (Ainsworth et al., 2018).
  • The project has encouraged and supported amateur taxonomic work and recording work, resulting in publications about rarely recorded Anthracoidea smuts (Taylor & Smith, 2017), and the cryptic Microglossum earthtongue complex in Wales (Harries et al., 2018)

new fungus species

Future work, and stories yet to be told

As the project approaches its final year of funding they plan to make the most of their last complete foraying year; consolidating existing data for publication and distribution, and working through their backlog of rarely recorded “bycatch” specimens sent into the project. They are also exploring options and resources to help encourage LAFF-type activities after the project ends.

If anyone would like more information about the project and how to get involved, please get in touch with Oliver at [email protected] or Brian at [email protected], or visit their webpage.