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Microbiol Spectr. 2017 Jul;5(4). doi: 10.1128/microbiolspec.FUNK-0052-2016.

Fungal Diversity Revisited: 2.2 to 3.8 Million Species.

Author information

1
Department of Life Sciences, The Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, United Kingdom, and Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3DS, United Kingdom.
2
Botanischer Garten und Botanisches Museum, Freie Universität Berlin, 14195 Berlin, Germany.

Abstract

The question of how many species of Fungi there are has occasioned much speculation, with figures mostly posited from around half a million to 10 million, and in one extreme case even a sizable portion of the spectacular number of 1 trillion. Here we examine new evidence from various sources to derive an updated estimate of global fungal diversity. The rates and patterns in the description of new species from the 1750s show no sign of approaching an asymptote and even accelerated in the 2010s after the advent of molecular approaches to species delimitation. Species recognition studies of (semi-)cryptic species hidden in morpho-species complexes suggest a weighted average ratio of about an order of magnitude for the number of species recognized after and before such studies. New evidence also comes from extrapolations of plant:fungus ratios, with information now being generated from environmental sequence studies, including comparisons of molecular and fieldwork data from the same sites. We further draw attention to undescribed species awaiting discovery in biodiversity hot spots in the tropics, little-explored habitats (such as lichen-inhabiting fungi), and material in collections awaiting study. We conclude that the commonly cited estimate of 1.5 million species is conservative and that the actual range is properly estimated at 2.2 to 3.8 million. With 120,000 currently accepted species, it appears that at best just 8%, and in the worst case scenario just 3%, are named so far. Improved estimates hinge particularly on reliable statistical and phylogenetic approaches to analyze the rapidly increasing amount of environmental sequence data.

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