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Missouri Mushroom Hunters Join Nationwide Effort to Document Every Species of Fungi in North America
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Missouri Mushroom Hunters Join Nationwide Effort to Document Every Species of Fungi in North America

Seraiah Alexander
Seraiah Alexander
June 27, 2024
2 min

Despite being all around us, fungi remain one of the least understood organisms on the planet. Scientists estimate that there are between 2.2 to 3.8 million species of fungi, but only around 148,000 have been formally identified. As part of a broader effort to catalog these millions of species yet to be found, Missouri mushroom hunters have joined a nationwide effort to catalog every fungus in North America.

Missouri Mycological Society has teamed up with Indiana-based MyCota Labs to encourage local mushroom hunters and citizen scientists to advance the documentation of North America’s fungi. Participants are given guidelines on how to accurately photograph, log, dry, and ship their fungal samples to ensure high-quality data collection. MyCota Labs then analyses these samples and compares them to a comprehensive database of fungal species to create a more extensive repository of mycological information. 

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Yet beyond discovering new species, the project also aims to address the common issue of fungal misidentification. Even some of the most “well-known” mushrooms have been incorrectly classified. For instance, in 2017, researchers from the University of Western Ontario found that the widely popular golden chanterelles were a completely different species than what was initially thought. The mushroom had such an entirely different genetic code that it had to be completely reclassified as its own species.

“We’ve been calling these by the Latin name Cantharellus cibarius for years – the same classification given to the European species of chanterelles. But it turns out this thing that we thought we knew really well, which grows from coast to coast, isn’t what we thought it was,” explained Greg Thorn, biology professor and lead author of the study.

Unfortunately, scientists have discovered that this is the case for many fungi, which has led to numerous classification errors and misunderstandings about the true diversity of North American fungi.

“Most of the species identified in most field guides in print today — I often say they won’t withstand the test of time,” said Steve Russell, founder and president of MyCota Labs. “There were a lot of Europeans that came to North America and described species and applied European names to our North American species.”

Efforts like those in Missouri will be crucial in correcting these historical inaccuracies. Now, with modern molecular techniques like DNA sequencing, researchers can provide more accurate identifications based on genetic markers rather than just physical characteristics. These updated identification methods are especially useful, considering fungi can greatly vary in their physical traits due to environmental factors.

Multiple states across the country have been participating in similar initiatives to document all of the fungal diversity in the U.S. However, this monumental task is expected to take around ten years to complete. Nonetheless, with the help of local enthusiasts and foragers, the project can cover a much larger area and gather a more diverse range of samples than would be possible by professional scientists alone.

For further information on the project, including detailed instructions on logging and shipping samples, visit the MyCoMap Missouri website.


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science
Seraiah Alexander

Seraiah Alexander

Content Editor

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