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 citizen scientists, and can provide a new focus for amateur efforts.
Key components of this project include careful documentation posted online, drying specimens and depositing them in a curated fungarium/herbarium (vouchering), and DNA sequencing to complement the observations that amateur mycologists already make.

The number of people in North America fascinated by fungi is vast. The 80 mushroom clubs affiliated with the North American Mycological Association have 10,000 members. Online Facebook mushroom groups have hundreds of thousands of members. 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 recording mushroom species, crowd-sourcing 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 project, register 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.”

Then in 2017, the North American Mycoflora Project was rebooted as a citizen science-driven project (originally "Mycoflora 2.0") and an independent 501c3 organization established.

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. 

  • Color photographs in the field, along with date, time and location coordinates -- to record many visual aspects of a sample before it is dried.
  • 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, 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, registering your project and ordering supplies on this website.

About North American Mycoflora Project

NAMP is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization expanding the continent-wide community of volunteer citizen scientists and professional mycologists who are documenting the distribution and biodiversity of North American mushrooms and fungi.

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