Fungi and Bacteria
Fungi and bacteria are essential to many of the most basic ecosystem processes: saprobic fungi break down fallen wood and litter returning nutrients to the soil; nitrogen-fixing bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi assist plants to obtain nutrients from the soil; and many groups of fungi and bacteria cause diseases of plants and animals. Understanding the roles of fungi in ecosystems, the impacts of environmental change and disturbance, and the potential impacts of newly introduced organisms all require accurate identification of species.
New Zealand's fungal diversity
One of the greatest challenges to understanding the diversity, origins, and ecological significance of New Zealand's fungi are the huge numbers of undescribed species. About 6,500 species of fungi have been reported from New Zealand, but we estimate there are at least another 15,000 species awaiting discovery. Of the species so far reported, about one-third are exotic having been introduced to New Zealand by humans, mostly in the last 200 years. Of the described indigenous species, about half are endemic.
Our fungal and bacterial systematics research focuses on describing and cataloguing the non-lichenised fungi and the plant-associated bacteria of New Zealand. We use phylogenies to understand their origins and their relationships with species from other parts of the world. Maintenance of the ICMP culture collection and the New Zealand Fungal Herbarium (PDD) is an integral part of our research. Information is delivered to relevant biodiversity and biosecurity agencies through the Web (NZFungi database, Fungal Guide, etc.), the Fungi of New Zealand series, formal science publications, and community events such as the New Zealand Fungal Foray.
Groups being actively worked on include the inoperculate discomycetes, the truffle-like fungi, the rusts, and the wood-rotting basidiomycetes. International collaborations in groups not otherwise being studied, such as the mushrooms and the slime moulds, ensure maximum use is made of both the culture collection and the dried collections in the PDD herbarium. Associated commercially funded projects with a strong biosecurity focus have included systematics research on Phytophthora, Fusarium, Albugo, and the pine-inhabiting Lophodermium species.