Examining Life

New book examines over a hundred fascinating fungi in Chile

The Fungi Foundation in Chile has released a new field book that catalogues mushrooms from the Atacama to Patagonia.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013  
The Russula sardonia, one of many mushrooms found in Chile’s Bío Bío region. Photo by Hongos Chile/ The Russula sardonia, one of many mushrooms found in Chile’s Bío Bío region. Photo by Hongos Chile/ facebook.

 

Our world relies on them for many things: medicines, foods, and perhaps most importantly, recycling. Members of the Fungi kingdom, Mushrooms are integral to the planet’s ecosystems, and the newly created Fungi Foundation in Chile is proactively investigating the various species found in the country.

Guiliana Furci, Executive Director of the Fungi Foundation , has spent the last ten years studying Chile’s fungi and documenting each unique species and its environment. She spoke to La Tercera about the new field guide, emphasizing the importance of  her work and the work of the foundation.

"They are not part of the plant kingdom, as many believe, but a realm apart,” Furci said. “Mushrooms are big recyclers of organic matter. Without them the world would be a large garbage dump.”

Her decade-long journey to discover Chile’s fungi took Furci all across the country, form the unique water deprived ecosystems of the Atacama Desert to the wind-swept harsh conditions of Chile’s Tierra del Fuego, at the very edge of the South American continent.

The book is the most complete guide to Chile’s fungi ever composed, and is markedly a major contribution to the field as currently only about five percent of the world’s mycobiota, all the fungi confined to a particular geographical area or region, are known. However, still more work remains for the Foundation.

"In Chile we don't know yet how many there are,” Furci said.  “And it was only with the last environmental law that the fungi kingdom was integrated so that its species can be classified and protected."

Through Furci’s work photographing and documenting each species she came across, the new field book was created, and includes 105 different kinds of mushrooms. She says she hopes that by displaying and explaining the range in colors, shapes, and textures of the many species, as well as listing the best time to try and spot them, her work will help to educate people, especially when it comes to toxic species.

"Only through education in recognition of the species can lethal poisonings that occur every year in Chile be avoided ,” Furci said.

Experts from the Fungi Foundation have been working alongside the CITUC (Universidad Católica Toxicological Information Center) to better document poisonous mushrooms in Chile to help prevent and treat their effects.

Ultimately the Fungi Foundation hopes to understand and preserve the knowledge of Chile’s varying species, and to promote the study of this often overlooked, but fundamentally important sector of the country’s, and planet’s, organisms.

The field book, which includes a  foreword written by the mycologist of the Royal Botanic Garden, is available through the foundation’s website, www.ffungi.org , and in the bookstore Librería Qué Leo located in Providencia, Santiago.