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Fungus Among Us: A New Way to Keep Track of Them

By Hank Becker
February 27, 1998

Land-dwelling fungi are everywhere--from Death Valley to the Himalayas. Earth is believed to support about 1.5 million fungal species, but systematically sampling and describing them has proved a tough task for scientists. Only about 10 percent of the fungi have been described and many fungi important to agriculture are still relatively unknown.

Efforts to gain new knowledge about fungi have been hampered because methods for finding and inventorying the organisms are varied and contradictory.

Agricultural Research Service mycologist Amy Rossman and colleagues could help change this. Rossman recently led a group of mycologists in developing standard techniques on how to sample and isolate all species of fungi from a large (20 square miles) land area and its components of living plants, wood, soil, plant litter, water, rocks, animals and animal products.

Explorers seeking unusual and interesting new fungi can benefit from the guidelines. So can mycologists who are characterizing new fungi, but also want to protect and preserve the fungi's native ecosystem. The new techniques are described in a 208- page book, Protocols for An All Taxa Inventory of Fungi, published by Parkway Publishers, Inc.

Rossman leads ARS' Systematic Botany and Mycology Laboratory at Beltsville, Md. She is also curator of the U.S. National Fungus Collections, the world's largest compilation of fungi, which includes about one million specimens.

Scientific contact: Amy Y. Rossman, Systematic Botany and Mycology Laboratory, 10400 Baltimore Ave., Bldg. 011A, Rm. 304, Beltsville, phone (301) 504-5364, fax (301)504-5810,

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