World Fungus Day: We Need You!
World Fungus Day: We Need You!
All MSA members know that fungi are crucial to our very existence, as mycorrhizal partners with plants, and as major decomposers and nutrient cyclers, not to mention as producers of medicines and food, which they provide to us, to other vertebrates and to many invertebrates. Most lay people, and even many biologists, do not, however, realize the importance of fungi. When I mention fungi people often think “yuck!”, their opinion being colored by sinister connotations from stories, and knowledge that fungi rot our food and homes, kill our plants, and that some are deadly poisonous. They do not know that our planet’s ecosystems would not function without fungi; there would be no fertile soil, no plant life, no herbivores, no carnivores, and no humans. In other parts of the world people are more mycophilic (at least where food is concerned), but still the significance of fungi is frequently unappreciated. Does this matter? We all know the answer–of course it does–and from many perspectives. For example, when people know about something and care about it, there is a much stronger chance that they will protect it, and even invest money in trying to find out more about it, which for the future of our ecosystems and, indeed ourselves, is imperative.
In the UK, we have put on events for a long time to introduce fungi to the general public. Those of you who attended IMC9 in 2010 may have visited the “Amazing Fungi” exhibition at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. In 2011 it moved to the National Botanic Garden of Wales, where I was privileged to open it. After the opening, we had a brainstorming session to come up with ideas on how to broaden awareness of fungi. Someone asked whether there was a world fungus day. Sadly, the answer was no. The same person told me that anyone can start a world day for any subject. Initially we thought that perhaps world fungus day was beyond our reach, but we organized Wales Fungus day in 2012 and then extended this to UK Fungus Day in 2013. We attached it to the start of Biology Week (a series of events around the country organized by the Royal Society of Biology). In our first year, 2013, there were 50 events across the country. This has gone on from strength to strength, though was obviously rather different in 2020, when UK Fungus Day was online only.
We have indoor and outdoor events, and combinations of both. We have talks, displays, films, fungal inspired fashion, arts and crafts, growing edible fungi on toilet rolls, make your favorite fungus, supermarket challenge (determining which goods contain fungi or fungal products), how the mushroom got it spots balloon demo, fungal microscopy, spore printing, quizzes etc. etc., and, of course, forays and organized fungus walks, to name just a few. Some of these are illustrated in the photographs, and in the special editions of the BMS newsletter reporting on the annual event. (https://www.britmycolsoc.org.uk/society/publications). There is other information on the UK Fungus Day website (http://www.ukfungusday.co.uk/).
If we had a World Fungus Day, this would have far greater impact than national fungus days or more disparate fungal events. It is obviously unrealistic to expect to have a huge World Fungus Day instantly, and cynics say that we could never get a day on which all mycological societies could agree, but if we don’t try to start something then we will never have a World Fungus Day. MSA is a large and vibrant society, with an impressively active student section, so I am appealing to all to join in parallel with BMS to try to get something going. I am in the process of organizing an online World Fungus Day symposium with talks from/about all continents, and hosted by the Arboricultural Society UK. While I don’t believe that it is feasible for a single place to coordinate World Fungus Day, what I am suggesting is that we coordinate Fungus Day on our own national/regional scale, using our own Society websites (or have your own Fungus Day website linked to the Society website). Ultimately we should aim for a World Fungus Day website that has links to the national/regional websites, though we may not achieve that this year.
Thus far we have arranged an International Fungus Day webinar with 12 speakers from around the world, including Amanda Black, Bob Blanchette, Yu Fukasawa, Giuliana Furci, Sydney Glassman, Sarah Gurr, Teppo Rämä, Marc-Andre Selosse, Suzanne Simard, T.S. Suryanarayanan, and Mike Wingfield. Talks will be wide-ranging, covering amongst other topics: marine fungi, mangroves, tree symbionts, decomposers, food security, and conservation; and spanning all continents, including Antarctica. We hope to record talks so even if your time zone does not allow you to watch them all on the day, they will be available for later viewing. The webinar will be hosted by the Arboricultural Association UK, and further details and tickets are available at https://www.trees.org.uk/Training-Events/Online-Learning.
I am hoping that, if you and few other mycological societies could put on a few additional Fungus Day (October 2nd) events this year (even if they are only virtual due to the pandemic), we may be able to build up to a full launch of World Fungus Day next year. It is OK to start in a small way. A few events are better than none. To quote a common saying, “From small acorns mighty oak trees grow”. I guess that a fungal equivalent might be “From tiny spores extensive mycelia develop”!
If you decide to participate by having an event, please let myself and Anne Pringle (email@example.com) know. We are in the process of finding a place to list ongoing activities, hopefully on the MSA website!