Citizen Science and Documenting Biodiversity – An Introduction to the Mycoflora Project

by: Paul Hill

The North American Mycoflora Project is a collaboration between professional mycologists and citizen scientists to identify and map the distribution of macrofungi throughout North America. It allows the scientific community to tap into the vast amount of knowledge and data amassed by individuals and mycology clubs, and can provide a new focus for amateur efforts.
 
Key components of this project include careful documentation and preparation of specimens (vouchering), depositing these specimens in a herbarium, and DNA sequencing to complement the morphological observations that amateur mycologists already use.

There are more than 10,000 members of North American Mycological Association (NAMA) affiliated clubs and hundreds of thousands of people in online groups interested in identifying mushrooms.  It is no easy task trying to coordinate the vast amount of crowd-sourced field observations, but whether you are surveying birds, observing ocean species, or counting mushroom species, crowd-sourcing the field observations can help move science forward.
 
Explore the links on this page to learn about the details of the project, and when you are ready to start your own mycoflora, sign up and get started!

The Mycoflora Project

In 2012, a meeting was held at Yale University to gather scientific-oriented mushroom collectors (mostly mushroom club members) and professional (academic) mycologists to work toward the long-term goal “to produce a modern, comprehensive mycoflora of macrofungi for North America.”

In the age of the internet and in the modern world of genetic investigation, getting samples to a fungarium with a written species description is no longer the only goal of a scientific collector. Several additional things are desired to make a more complete record of a specimen. 

  • A voucher – recording of various attributes of a sample as found in nature including metadata such as collection date and location, as well as identification to genus and species.
  • Color photographs – to record many visual aspects of a sample before it is dried.
  • A dried sample to be catalogued in a fungarium.
  • A DNA analysis to help establish how different or similar one sample is from another.
Connecting all the information together online, so anyone with interest can find all the information.

How can citizen scientists contribute?

As a citizen scientist you and I can sample, voucher, photograph, dry samples, and enter data.  Afterwards, we can make the samples more valuable to science by sending samples to fungaria and DNA labs.  Making this entire process as easy as possible and making the data accessible is a primary focus of the Mycoflora 2.0 project.

From Field Observation to Vouchered Specimen

To support citizen science efforts in the field, the Mycoflora project is coordinating the creation of various collecting protocols (helpful steps on how to collect and sample specimens). Such processes include what to do in the field and back in the lab (your dining room table or office desk). You can learn more about these protocols here: http://mycoflora.org/resources/protocols

To the Internet

Once you have a sample documented and dried, the next goal is to get the data online so it is accessible to everyone.  Instead of forcing users to utilize a single website, the Mycoflora project supports several online locations as options to record your observations. As a field collector of mushrooms, you have likely seen or used the site MushroomObserver.org, a website where you can record field observations, organize your finds, and ask for identification from a large community of specialists.  Another site which has appeared in the last few years is iNaturalist.org . It has seen great momentum in recent years as it is both built by paid website dev elopers and has many users recording many things including insects, birds, plants, mammals, and - my personal favorite - fungi. iNat also features mobile apps to document your finds in the field. Finally, you can choose to record your observations and images on MyCoPortal.org – the platform of choice for many professional mycologists.

To the Fungarium

Fungaria are institutions that specialize in storing fungal specimens, allowing these specimens to be available to researchers worldwide and stored in perpetuity.  The Mycoflora project will help you locate a fungarium that will accept your local specimens. They are also working with the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT), designated the fungarium-of-last-resort for projects who don’t have access to other local herbaria or fungaria

To the DNA Lab

The Mycoflora project has set up a DNA sequencing service where participating clubs or individuals can send specimens for genetic analysis.   Arrangements have been made with Duke University and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse to process samples and to get DNA sequences. The Mycological Society of America (MSA) and NAMA have committed a combined total of over $30,000 to help pay for DNA sequencing for clubs from targeted regions and for those who lack other funding sources.

Many, if not most, researchers from around the world already record their DNA sequences online at GenBank, the genetic sequence database at the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).  This will be the ultimate repository for genetic data generated from this project.

Linking it Together and Generating a Mycoflora

Once the data and photos are online, a sample is stored in a fungarium, and a DNA sequence is recorded in GenBank, the only part left is to cross-reference all the data together and generate a complete fungal record.  Stephen Russell, PhD student at Purdue University and a coordinator of the Mycoflora project, has developed a web platform at MycoMap.com to accomplish these remaining goals. This platform cross-links the information and presents it on a simple functional dashboard.  This interface allows a user to quickly analyze their data and to verify the individual records that will generate the resulting local mycoflora project. The records verified from these local projects will form the initial North American mycoflora.

You and I may not be as prolific a citizen scientist as Rev. Miles J. Berkeley whose personal collection of around 30,000 specimens started the Royal Kew Gardens Fungarium, or Ben Woo and his PNW Russula collection, but we each can contribute as citizen scientists when we take a good sample, record useful information, take pictures, dry the sample, keep all the data coordinated, and send it off to the appropriate institutions. All of this is made easier by the coordinated efforts by the folks in the Mycoflora Project. 

Get more information about starting your own local mycoflora, order supplies, and register your project at www.mycoflora.org.

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About North American Mycoflora Project

We are working towards a single goal - the development of the first comprehensive mycoflora of North America. This project is a consortium of citizen scientists and professional mycologists performing a biological survey of all the macrofungi that occur in North America.

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16 October 2017
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