Finding new fungi …. or not?
Each year, the team at the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) Plant Health and Environment Laboratory find and validate at least 10 to 15 “new” fungal species from a wide range of samples.
These fungi are reported for the first time in New Zealand; however, this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re new in our environment. In fact, most of the detections are suspected to be present and widespread but have just not been found before (which we also often experience in the kiwifruit industry when we look into new reports of unusual symptoms).
An interesting example is the recent detection of Fusarium juglandicola. This species was described from Europe in 2021, and shortly after its publication MPI scientists identified it from local surveillance samples.
Comparisons of its DNA with records and earlier collections showed that this fungus had been found from many hosts and locations across the country since the 1960s. Therefore, it wasn’t new, but rather a species that couldn’t be identified before as no one had given it a name.
It turns out, scientists around the world often find fungi different from the species known to date and continue to describe the enormous biodiversity of the kingdom. It has been estimated that there could be 1.5 to 12 million species of fungi on Earth, but there are only around 150,000 that have been named so far!
This is a great reminder to always remember the importance of unusual symptom reporting. Once the suspicious find is identified – even if it’s found to not be of concern with no further action required, or not new to New Zealand and managed on-orchard – it still enables the kiwifruit industry to build important scientific data and knowledge to help growers, and others in the kiwifruit industry, identify similar symptoms they may be seeing on their own orchard.
Image: A fungus that was suspected to be new to New Zealand but found not to be new after all. Image: Landcare Research (Licensed under CC BY 4.0: ICMP 11498).