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Where Are All the Undescribed Fungi?

September 1997 , Volume 87 , Number  9
Pages  888 - 891

David L. Hawksworth and Amy Y. Rossman

First author: International Mycological Institute, Bakeham Lane, Egham, Surrey TW20 9TY, U.K.; second author: Systematic Botany and Mycology Laboratory, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville, MD 20705

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Accepted for publication 29 May 1997.

The hypothesis that there are 1.5 million fungal species on Earth, of which only about 70,000 are described, implies that 1.43 million remain undescribed. The recognition that many new species have yet to be found is of fundamental importance to plant pathologists, agronomists, and plant regulatory officials, among others, who continue to encounter diseases caused by previously unknown or understudied fungi. Unexplored habitats with their arsenal of unknown fungi are also of interest to those searching for novel organisms for use in biological control or for their pharmaceutical attributes. This paper presents data on the expected numbers of fungi in some relatively unexplored habitats, such as tropical forests, and those obligately associated with plants, lichens, and insects. In addition to undiscovered species, many have been collected but remain lost or hidden as named species and ignored for lack of modern characterization; others have been collected and recognized as new species but remain undescribed. Some fungal species are unrecognized within erroneously circumscribed species, often based on presumed host specificity, while others exist as biological species but remain buried within those broadly defined species for lack of gross morphological characterization. From these data, one must conclude that enormous numbers of unrecognized fungi can be found almost everywhere, including one's own backyard.

Additional keywords: biodiversity, biosystematics, diversity, emerging diseases, inventory, lichenized fungi, plant pathogens.

The American Phytopathological Society, 1997