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Stud Mycol. 2006;55:1-12.

The South African National Collection of Fungi: celebrating a centenary 1905-2005.

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  • 1Biosystematics Division, ARC Plant Protection Research Institute, P. Bag X134, Queenswood, Pretoria 0121, South Africa.


The international acronym PREM denotes the South African National Collection of Fungi, which houses approximately 60 000 specimens. The collection includes material from outside South Africa and contains representatives of all the major groups of fungi excluding the yeasts and pathogens of larger animals and man. The name PREM was derived from the city in which the collection is situated, Pretoria (PRE), and the M defines the collection as being mycological. The background information and historical facts presented in this paper are based on an unpublished manuscript, prepared by the co-author and then head of the collection A.P. Baxter, for the 90(th) celebration of PREM.The collection was established in 1905, when South Africa was still a British colony. The vision and hard work of the earlier scientists associated with it paved the way for the establishment of a number of present-day national research bodies. One of these, the Plant Protection Research Institute, is currently the custodian of the collection. Over time activities at PREM were influenced by socio-economic and political events, and most recently, the South African government's commitment to international biodiversity initiatives. Although the basic goals and needs to maintain PREM remained intact throughout, various phases in terms of research focus can be recognised over the past century. In the early days the emphasis was on collecting and recording of fungi, then pioneering research was done on mycotoxins and later there was an increased demand for public-good services and innovation. Since the 1980's sophisticated molecular techniques have aided in the discovery of true phylogenetic relationships of fungi, a fundamental field of systematics, that was previously impossible to explore by any other means. Against these advances, the value of reference collections is often questioned.New technologies should, however, not be pursued in isolation from other relevant factors. Improvement of agricultural practices, knowledge sharing and the protection and conservation of biota will always be important. Even so, the success and future of natural history collections depends on continued support from governing bodies, appreciation for our biological heritage and on inputs from the scientific community.

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