Fungal biodiversity: separating good from evil
We are currently celebrating the International Year of Biodiversity as designated by the United Nations. As community we were invited to safeguard the variety of life on earth: biodiversity. Recent results from large scale DNA sequencing projects have shown that most biodiversity on earth is actually very small, represented in insects and microbes. Fungi represent a relatively unexplored group of organisms of which only the most common examples are known at species level. A conservative estimate based on the number of unique fungi per plant species suggest that at least 1.5 M species of fungi should occur on plants, of which around 7% have been described to date. Many habitats, ecosystems and host plants have, however, never been investigated, and thus their microbial inhabitants remain unexplored, unknown, and underutilised. Over the past 10 years, mycologists have on average described 1250 species per year, meaning that it will take 1120 years to simply describe the number of taxa we now consider to be a vast underestimate. Furthermore, based on DNA data, the majority of fungal morphogenera are shown to be poly- or paraphyletic, and most morphological species appear to represent assemblages of different phylo genetic taxa, many of which turn out to be geographically separated. Although the Linnaean system was based on the phenotype, I argue that inconspicuous differences may in some cases be more relevant for trade and quarantine, and hence a more accurate naming system based on DNA data is called for. This is an achievable goal if scientists embrace the virtual laboratory of the future, and deposit related data in interactive, linked databases such as GenBank, TreeBase and BOLD, with metadata in MycoBank, and links to other user communities such as GBIF and EOL. This process, which could also be circumscribed as accountability in science, should be strongly enforced as part of the editorial policy of all reputable journals. Techniques to detect minute quantities of DNA, and compare partial or whole genomes are continually evolving. Although we need to improve our understanding of population dynamics and gene flow, we should also acknowledge the importance of new emerging diseases caused by novel organisms, or formerly less relevant pathogens that have gained new importance due to climate change. Molecular techniques, new sequencing platforms, and the acces- sibility of these data will play a central role in the future taxonomic system adapted for fungi.