The Missing ‘F’ Word: Fauna, Flora and … Fungi

May 3, 2016

Dr Buchanan fell into fungi by accident – he was offered a job as an impoverished postgraduate. But he, like the audience of around 60 people from across all walks of Queenstown life, clearly has a fondness for fungi and is on a mission to increase its profile.

Often forgotten yet truly prolific, the fungal kingdom is five to six times the size of the plant kingdom (it’s estimated that there are around 1.5 million species, of which maybe only 5% are explored). Dr Peter Buchanan provided many reasons why this second kingdom of life deserves recognition for its economic, health and ecological contributions.

“Economically, fungi have massive national and global impact as the cause of most plant diseases, and ecologically, they are a critical food source for large numbers of organisms as well as supporting the nutrition of over 90% of plants.”

“In an emerging post-antibiotic era we must go back to fungi – the source of penicillin – for new ways to defeat bacteria”, he said.

Did you know the largest living organism is not a blue whale but a fungus? That there are an estimated 20-24,000 species in New Zealand, of which only around 7,000 are known? That our native pukatea bracket fungus is more endangered than the kiwi or the kakapo? And that New Zealand is the only country with a fungus on its currency (our $50 note)? Don’t be shy of the F word!

Dr Buchanan, Science Team Leader for the Systematics Team at Landcare Research, and his colleagues undertake fungal research that includes managing over 100,000 specimens at our national Fungarium.