How many fungi?

Daniel B. Wheeler dwheeler at
Tue Sep 4 17:50:23 EST 2001

Some time ago, there was a discussion on either this ng or
alt.nature.mushrooms about the total number of fungi present in the
world. I remember giving a figure of 1 million, based on a newspaper
article I had read (and probably still have preserved on a floppy disc
somewhere). But I never actually had any citation or source to back up
that number.

I just found a citation indicating 1.5 million fungi in the world,
although the reasoning is a little complex. It's in Mushroom, the
Journal of Wild Mushrooming, Spring, 2001, and cites Brce Kendrick's
The Fifth Kingdom as its source.

The article includes this text:

"How many fungi are waiting to be discovered? David Hawksworth came up
with an ingenious answer a few years ago. Noting that Britain is among
the most intensively investigated areas on Earth for plants and for
fungi, he pointed out that almost all the flowering plants are known,
and that there are about 2,000 species. Although the fungi of Britain
are definately not as fully known, since new ones are still be
described, aboiut 12,000 species have been recorded there. this gives
a ratio of bout six fungi to each plant species.

"Extrapolating (perhaps rather ambitiously) from Britain to the entire
globe, Hawksworth suggested that since there appear to be about
250,000 species of flowering plants inthe world, there are probably
six times as many fungi - about 1,500,000 fungi, in fact. Even if this
figure is an over-estimate, and there are only half-a-million fungi,
we still have described only 20 percent of the total, and a huge task
lies before us.

"But if we accept this figure as a working approximation (and no-one
has yet come up with a different formula), it brings us to a
realization that about two centuries of mycology have so far succeeded
in describing only about 6 to 7 percent of the world's mycota - a
pretty shocking state of affairs."

Why is it tragic? Later in the same article, quoting Dr. Bob Murphy,
Director of the Royal Ontario Museum's Centre for Biodiversity and
Conservation Biology, who in turn was quoted in the Globe and Mail of
12 July 1999 after returning from the North Vietnam rainforest:

"...If you protect the forest, you protect everything that's there,
especially the fungi, which are producing the majority of new
pharmaceuticals that are coming out."

If anyone else has other cited estimates, I'd enjoy hearing them.

BTW, the above total may sound overestimated by some. But when such
things as rusts, smuts, ectomycorrhizae, endomycorrhizae, soil, and
compost actinomycetes are added, it doesn't seem an overestimate (at
least to me) at all. Then you have the newly discovered endophytic
fungi, found inside the living leaves of trees and plants, only a few
of which have ever been examined to date... I remember reading about
some 40-60 endophytic fungi being found on the inside of Douglas fir
needles in the 90's, a single tree species. Who knows how many pine
endophytic fungi there are?

Daniel B. Wheeler

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