Barcoding can promote mycology in africa
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BARCODING CAN PROMOTE MYCOLOGY IN AFRICA. Marieka Gryzenhout. Mycology in Africa. Unique biomes and wildlife Countless UNESCO world heritage sites Incredibly diverse 8 biodiversity hotspots

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Marieka Gryzenhout

Mycology in Africa

  • Unique biomes and wildlife

    • Countless UNESCO world heritage sites

  • Incredibly diverse

    • 8 biodiversity hotspots

  • Mostly third world with large and growing human populations that threatens and puts great strain on the environment

  • Crops are threatened by plant pathogens, and humans and live stocks by several microbes

St Lucia World Heritage Site, South Africa

(Gryzenhout, Roets & De Villiers, 2010)

Mycology in Africa

  • Millions of species of fungi estimated to exist

    • Metagenetics reveal even more

  • How many occur in Africa?

    • Proper inventories and checklists are not existing, although some countries have some information

    • In South Africa alone, a survey based on the number of plants, with a certain number of fungi assigned to each species, estimated c. 200 000 species in South Africa alone (Crous et al. 2006)

      • Only 4% has names (Crous et al. 2006)

  • Who is working with them?

    • Very few mycologists

      • In South Africa c. 20 mycologists who like systematics but mostly have other responsibilities


(Abdel-Azeem, 2010; Gryzenhout et al., 2010; Ngala & Gryzenhout, 2010)

Why is it important to look at the fungi?

  • Incredibly numerous

  • Foundation of any ecosystem

  • Contributes to health of plants and animals

  • Symbionts and other close assocations

  • Impact hugely on the lives of humans (plant pathogens, human pathogens, animal pathogens, mycotoxins, food spoilage, industrial aplications, industrial and commercial problems, useful by-products…)

  • Could be useful ecological indicators

  • They are endangered too and deserve protection, yet underrepresented in the larger biological community and government circles

Minter (2010)

Ecological threats to fungi in Africa

  • Diversity and functionality understudied, impact of human activities unknown and need of conservation ignored

  • Encroachment, fragmentation, poor land management, alteration, degradation and transformation – fungi not included

  • Invasive microbes

  • Indiscriminate spraying of especially non-selective fungicides by farmers, especially subsistence farmers

  • Illegal trading and overharvesting of edible mushrooms (Terfezia, Cantharellusand Boletus)

  • Loss of habitat due to deforestation:

    • Especially slash and burn for agricultural land,

    • Use of trees for firewood and charcoal, timber, tourist ornaments

    • Overgrazing

    • Medicinal plant collection practices (role of pathogens)

    • Reforestation with exotic tree species

  • Climate change

(Gryzenhout et al., 2010; Ngala & Gryzenhout , 2010; Nourou, 2011)

Practical threats to fungi in Africa

  • Threat to indigenous knowledge

  • Perceptions and mycophobia

  • Poverty

  • Land use issues

  • More scientific input by mycologists in political issues

  • Lack of interest and ignorance in government, conservation and public circles

  • Lack of collaborations and little communication of work to others

  • Political changes and inner politics of the scientific community

(Gryzenhout et al., 2010; Ngala & Gryzenhout , 2010; Nourou, 2011)

Practical threats to fungi in Africa

  • Legislation and permitting, often coupled with corruption

  • Still compiling basic checklists of fungi and have huge numbers of undescribed species – lack of capacity

  • Funding for collections and herbaria

  • Funding from government for private collections lacking

  • Funding for basic mycology scarce

  • Infrastructure, centres of excellence and training lacking

  • Brain drain

(Gryzenhout et al., 2010; Ngala & Gryzenhout , 2010; Nourou, 2011; MycoAfrica 2010, 2011)

Needs and resources

  • Financial

  • Infrastructure

  • Guidance and support

  • Training

  • Assistance with identification

  • Better sampling, encompassing checklists

  • Opportunity

  • Filling the fungal gaps

  • Engagement and meeting others

CapacityMycology in Africa: what is needed

  • Collection trips

CapacityMycology in Africa: what is needed

  • Processing, preserving and identification

But what is unique, what is exciting

  • Clean slate

  • Untapped and unique

    biodiversity to be explored

  • Untapped and unique applications, various technologies

  • Unique indigenous knowledge

  • Incredibly talented, diverse and passionate people doing much with little, often at an international level

  • Global connections and assistance

  • Emerging good will in country

    constitutions towards biological research

  • Fungal conservation

    • No fungi are on red lists of any country

Creating awareness

  • Ethnomycology

  • SaFungi ( – amateur mycology

  • African Mycological Association ( – professional and amateur

  • African Workgroup for Fungal Conservation, affiliated to International Society for

    Fungal Conservation

  • And other initiatives

The possible way forward

  • How can we deal with so many fungi, so few mycologists, so many pressures and so few resources?

  • How can we get message across to government, conservationists, biodiversity officials and the public that we need to work with these fungi?

  • How to promote sustainable projects and stimulate mycological research?

A common goal to enthuse and unite

  • Explore and document biodiversity in a systematic, targeted way

  • High quality data

  • Boost collections and checklists

  • Explore potential uses of fungi

  • Applications in fields impacting on humans, i.e. plant pathology, mycotoxins, industrial mycology

  • New technologies to do large scale ecological studies using metagenetics

Establishing networks or consortia and producing focused research

How BARCODE OF LIFE can help

Pyrosequence data of endophytes.

  • Pipelines

  • Data management

  • Identification of gaps

  • Assistance, training and expertise, including understanding of legislature

  • Infrastructure and capacity

  • Networks, aids collaboration, assist meetings, recruits people, especially on an international level

  • Outreach, raising awareness and dissemination

  • New technologies

  • Quality control

  • Leverage and assistance with fund raising


  • For a group of fungi that are poorly described in a continent with a large proportion of undiscovered fungi, barcoding has some challenges

    • First level:

      • Most are new species

      • Assistance is needed even with known species

      • Difficulty when blasting

    • Second level:

      • Deciding on species limits, % similarity cut-offs and meaning of snp’s

      • Multiple genes and phylogenetic analyses necessary for proper identification of known groups

      • Taxonomic descriptions

  • Standardized pipeline and coordination necessary

    • Solid, high quality foundation necessary is thus needed


  • Series of carefully planned surveys needed to build library systematically

  • Building of a database or library enriched with taxonomic studies will be very useful to aid in identification based on barcoding

    • Enables local sequence searches

    • Future collections may expand species with few isolates or singleton or doubleton species, and more species will improve resolution

    • Vouchers exists and quality control

  • Use of environmental barcoding to make meaningful impact to study large numbers and diversity of fungi in Africa


Dr Joyce Jefwa, Kenya (Kenya)

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