The Fungi book presentation at the Main October meeting was the final step in a very special project that we can all be very proud of. Our Club enabled this project, which would never have happened without its involvement. The WA Naturalists’ Club, with partners like the UBC, has taken the lead role in enabling the gathering and sharing of information on fungi in WA.
Some background for newer members:
Our Club has always involved Fungi in our natural history interests, since our inception in 1924. Bill Carne in the 1920s, Joe Gentili in the 1960s, Kevn Griffiths from the 70s on are some notable contributors to fungi knowledge. Kevn Griffiths worked with Roger Hilton from UWA to publish the first field guide to Fungi in WA, which was published in 1985. In the 1990s there was scientific concern that fungi research and learning had been neglected. WA has never had a State Mycologist and the government was lobbied many times to provide a mycological position at the State Herbarium. Sadly, these requests were ignored.
Finally in 2003 an opportunity arose through Lottery West funding in partnership with the WA Herbarium and The Urban Bushland Council (UBC). The Perth Urban Bushland Fungi Project (PUBF) was created with Dr Neale Bougher being seconded from his position as mycologist at CSIRO, to be the Project Mycologist. Over the next 8 years through partnerships and working with Friends of Bushland groups, the Fungi Project provided workshops, talks and forays to raise awareness and interest in fungi in WA. The WA public including Club members assisted Neale Bougher gather WA fungi for study, while they had fun learning where, when and how to find fungi, how to start to identify fungi and the importance of fungi to the local bushland. The project kept within the Perth Metropolitan Region as there were so many new species of fungi to be found and so much that could be achieved within this area. However other regions clamoured to be included and Nats Club Fungi excursions were fitted in to areas including Augusta, Wongan Hills and Katanning. Much good work was achieved including production of the Perth Fungi Field guide which is still available (downloadable) and in use today.
So how does the Inocybe Family book come into this? When funds were no longer available to continue the Fungi Project, a grant application opportunity came up with the federal body ABRS which was at the time offering a 2-for-1 sponsorship for selected Science Research Projects. Neale and Kevin Thiele from the WA Herbarium submitted a proposal to be sponsored through DEC. Roz Hart happened to meet Neale on the day that DEC has declined to support this proposal, while acknowledging that it was an excellent proposal, but they had other priorities. Neale was visibly upset. Without a group to pledge financial support, Neale and Kevin’s proposal couldn’t even be entered for consideration. As a Council member, Roz quickly approached the Nats Club Council to see if Nats would be prepared to back this and at least offer the chance to see if the proposal met with ABRS approval. This was no small decision, as if successful this would require considerable fund to be produced by WA Nats. In fact, we needed $105, 000 over 3 years, as $35,000 per year. Coming when many were still enthusiastic and with interest in fungi high, Roz promised to lobby fungi supporters and others to pledge support so that most of this money would be donated and not be taken from Club Funds.
There was much vigorous discussion by Council, as Council does not part with Club funds of this size without very good reason. This project, coming just after the PUBF Fungi project, was seen, initially, as just giving the chance to see if Neale’s project was good enough to attract Federal funding, with the knowledge that if it was, the Club then had to produce the money.
Lo and behold, to our delight, in the fullness of time, Neale’s proposal was accepted. It was made very clear to the applicants that having the backing of a community group like WA Nats made a crucial difference.
This Inocybe family project supported crucial work to be done on a family of important Australian mycorrhizal fungi, increasing the known number in Australia from 17 species to 117. The book that has been produced is a monograph of the family Inocybiaceae in Australia, in the Fungi of Australia series—a very prestigious book. And it’s due to our Club that this book now exists. Congratulations are due to all of us involved.
And Neale has since discovered more species. Why are mycorrhizal fungi important? Australia as a very different continent has far more biodiversity than many other parts of the world, namely UK and Europe. We have so much still to learn about the natural world here. It was thought that almost everything was known until the biodiversity of places like Australia, South Africa and Madagascar was uncovered.
Having committed the Club to this substantial funding, contacting potential donors by phone became a substantial yearly task for Roz each May/June for the next 3 years! Fortunately her belief and trust that WA fungi people understood how important it was to support Neale and the WA Herbarium in this endeavour was justified and although the Club did end up topping up the money, a substantial amount was raised through tax deductible donations to our Serventy Memorial Fund.
Copy available for reference in Library