NAMA was an early adopter of vouchering fungi using standard scientific collection, identification, photography and dehydration methods. For almost 25 years NAMA has been preserving specimens from annual forays at The Field Museum in Chicago. NAMA members provided the people power for these collections, thus exhibiting an early version of what we now call citizen science.
The case for a North American mycoflora was made by Bruns and Beug 2012 in Mcllvanea and elsewhere. The goal was to create an online compendium of all North American macrofungi (those visible with the unaided eye) based on preserved specimens and genetic sequences. Bruns secured funding for a workshop of 70 amateurs and professionals at a meeting of the Mycological Society of America at Yale in 2012, a meeting in which NAMA played a key role. It was called the North American Mycoflora Project. The original tag line was, “Without a sequenced specimen, it’s a rumor.” Without funding, however, little progress was made. Bruns estimated it would take $16-18 million for professionals to start constructing the mycoflora - funding which never materialized. However, NAMA kept the idea alive through a Mycoflora Committee, chaired first by Richard Jacob and then by Stephen Russell which met several times until 2016.
The Mycoflora Project was re-conceived as a citizen science-driven enterprise at a second day-long workshop at the July 2017 MSA conference in Athens GA. The goal was to empower many volunteers around North America to collect, document, sequence and voucher macrofungi, working in collaboration with professional mycologists.
The North American Mycoflora Project, Inc. was formed and received tax-exempt status as a charitable nonprofit organization. NAMA’s board pledged $10,000 funding for sequencing specimens from NAMA forays and NAMA-affiliated clubs. Operations commenced in 2018.
In just two years, more than 160 projects were registered, from Alaska to Puerto Rico, and Hawaii all the way to Greenland. While most projects are led by unaffiliated mycophiles, about 30 percent are connected to mushroom clubs, civic organizations (such as the Great Plains Nature Center, Potter Valley Tribe), educational institutions (such as Valdosta State University, Glen Urquhart School), government organizations (such as Northwest Territories, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services) and national parks (such as Boston Harbor Islands, Glacier National Park). There’s even a project that aims to find and sequence mushrooms described by Charles McIlvaine around Philadelphia more than a century ago.
Some 5,000 specimens have been documented and sequenced to date, with results posted on MycoMap and some also on MyCoPortal and Genbank. Among these are rare species like Lachnum halesiae on Halesia carolina, an undescribed species in the family Hymenogastraceae, an undescribed Callistosporium and undescribed species in Amanita (sp-N68) and in Russula (sp-IN58 and sp-IN99). In addition, two Continental MycoBlitzes - “virtual” forays open to anyone in North America with an iNaturalist account - have resulted in 5285 observations of 1165 species, by 220 participants, with sequencing done by Cathie Aime’s lab at Purdue University.
On August 8, 2020, NAMP became Fungal Diversity Survey, or FunDiS for short. Having the word mycoflora in our name had become a challenge. “Flora” is a term from botany - the study of plants. Fungi, as Professor Don Pfister eloquently explained in a Deep Funga blog post, are anything but plants. Fungi are their own kingdom - but as long as they get lumped in with plants they will not get the recognition, attention and protection they deserve. As an organization championing the special place of fungi in the world we needed to stand up for them - starting with our name.
Our rebranding marks a significant evolution of our mission, an evolution hinted at in a blog post, A four-tiered model for crowdsourcing fungal biodiversity citizen science.
Up until now we’ve focused on requiring participants to operate at the level of professional mycologists: extensive documentation; sequencing DNA, and preserving dried specimens deposited in fungaria. While this is wonderful (and not something we would ever want to lose) we realized that it is overwhelming to the average mushroom lover and represents a somewhat limited view of what constitutes legitimate science in the era of crowdsourcing.
We asked ourselves - what could FunDiS meaningfully contribute? After all, iNat and Mushroom Observer seem to be doing fine without our help. When we asked mycologists interested in using citizen science data, the need was clear: better data! While there is no shortage of observations of fungi on internet platforms, many observations are not useful because pictures are poor or insufficient, many are wrongly identified and many lack valuable substrate, habitat and other data.
We realized that there is an opportunity to broaden our current mission, by engaging the large universe of mycophiles posting observations online and (a) training them to provide higher quality documentation and (b) ensuring that observations get IDd by expert identifiers. Participants simply need to join and contribute their observations to FunDiS iNaturalist Project while observing the posted minimum quality standards. A pool of “triagers” give people feedback on how to improve observation quality, while expert identifiers provide or confirm IDs and flag interesting specimens for specialists. Instructions are here.
Making the molecular revolution accessible and affordable to individuals, clubs and organizations has been at the core of what we do. We are using a new partner - BOLD, the Barcode of Life Data System, based at the Center for Biodiversity Genomics at the University of Guelph, Ontario. They are able to analyze high volumes at low cost with a predictable turnaround time. This partnership will clear the bottlenecks and offer other advantages such as easy GenBank submission.
FunDiS is again offering sequencing grants for registered FunDiS projects. We’re also planning several programs to assist projects and clubs in raising funds for sequencing. Information on getting new grants or purchasing new sequences can be found here.
The other question we asked ourselves as we were evolving our mission was about our impact in the world. Today, fungi are under threat like never before. Habitat destruction, pollution and climate change mean that fungi are going extinct or changing distribution faster than we can catalog and map them.
This creates not only an opportunity but an urgent need to put FunDiS into the service of conservation, as a tool to help document and even protect rare and endangered species and habitats dependent on fungi, or a way of tracking species that are harbingers of climate change.
In the summer of 2020 FunDiS assembled a working group of mycologists and leaders in fungal conservation to develop a proposed course of action. This group has developed some exciting ideas that we’ll share later in the year. Please stay tuned!