G.A.M. Scott, T.J. Entwisle, T.W. May & G.N. Stevens
Environment Australia, May 1997
ISBN 0 6422 1399 2
George A. M. Scott
The four groups of cryptogams covered in this report (the non-marine lichens, mosses, algae and fungi) are too diverse to be treated as a single group. Nevertheless, the recommendations below are an attempt to summarise those contained in the individual group chapters. Within each section, the recommendations are in priority order. Note that a section of additional recommendations specific to the fungi is included.
The single, largest stumbling block to advancing cryptogamic knowledge and conservation in Australia is the lack of skilled workers. It is critical that this shortage be addressed now through the provision of significantly greater resources for the following purposes:
- the number of professional staff teaching and researching the taxonomy and ecology of cryptogams in both herbaria and universities should be increased. Career paths in cryptogamic botany, currently almost non-existent, must be developed. As a first step, it is recommended that each of the major herbaria should appoint, with appropriate support staff, a minimum of two cryptogamic botanists, one of whom should be a mycologist;
- funds are urgently needed to educate the public – as well as other scientists and land managers – about the significance of cryptogams, and to provide for informed conservation decisions (refer part 4(b) below).
These resources must be put to work through long-term research and education strategies while, for the short term at least, we learn to maximise use of the available expertise.
Completion of the cryptogam volumes of the Flora of Australia is a high priority. The current rate of progress on the non-vascular flora has been slow, particularly for fungi and algae. Clearly, ABRS will require a considerable increase in resources to meet this need, and a strategic approach to the issue must be developed. This reinforces the need for additional trained personnel [see Section 1.6.1].
Inventories or provisional checklists of known species in all groups are required. These are in progress but additional resources are needed to expedite their completion. A census of Australian fungi and algae must be produced, and existing information on distribution must be collected (see also Section 5.7.2). Cryptogams should be included in all biological surveys, and collections should wherever possible be lodged in herbaria. This again reinforces the need for additional trained personnel.
c) Ecological research
Additional research into the ecology of cryptogams is needed urgently. Topics of particular interest include: identifying the factors controlling species distribution; predicting responses to environmental perturbations; and the congruence of vascular plant communities and cryptogams. In addition, developmental work is required in the way cryptogams are studied. Fungi and algae, in particular, present significant difficulties for collection and identification, and sampling techniques require improvement.
d) Information exchange and access
Collections at all Australian herbaria should be databased and made accessible nationally via the internet. External funding to these institutions will be required to assist in prioritising the work. Due to a high incidence of misidentifications in older records, rigorous checking and quality assurance will be required. Data validation protocols such as those developed by the Environment Resources Information Network (ERIN) will be required, and issues such as restricting access to some information (e.g. site location details for rare species) should be properly considered. Existing and new cryptogam specialists should be encouraged to exchange information and ideas, for example through the new Australasian Mycological Society, as a means of creating better links and lobbying for cryptogams.
e) Novel research
The potential for development from cryptogams of substances or functions of value to humans is considered immense, but research and development are needed to realise this potential.
a) Establish reserves
Cryptogams should be taken into account in the National Reserve System, with emphasis on centres of high endemism and high biodiversity for each group. The ANZECC Scientific Task Force for the National Reserves System would appear to be the appropriate forum to further this matter. An objective approach to reserve selection is required, taking into account the current level of knowledge and the small number of qualified workers to monitor the effectiveness of such reserves. The Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) model used in the United Kingdom is an example of a score-based approach to reserve selection, although more recent iterative approaches may also have application (see Sections 1.5 and 1.6.2).
b) Legislation and threat status
It is recommended that cryptogams be afforded uniform recognition in Commonwealth, State and Territory legislation (see Section 1.2). It is recommended that a nationally consistent system of threat categories and methodology for assigning these be developed for cryptogams. This task would most appropriately be undertaken by the ANZECC Endangered Flora Network with appropriate involvement from cryptogamic experts (see Section 1.3). Once an agreed national approach is devised, a list of Rare or Threatened Australian Cryptogams should be prepared. Appendix B provides an initial step towards such a list, but the lack of information, particularly for the fungi and algae, makes them a priority for such work.
Until legislative recognition of cryptogams is further advanced, it is recommended that, in any development proposal that may impact on species currently considered rare, the precautionary principle be adopted and these species be afforded the same degree of legislative protection given to other rare biota. The onus should be on the proponent to demonstrate that a species is not rare before approval is given.
To assist in utilising the relatively few existing specialists, it is recommended that a register be developed of consultants able to conduct taxonomic and ecological/physiological studies or offer advice. Such a register, for which Appendix A is a starting point, should be publicised nationally (see Section 1.6.3).
d) Management guidelines
Guidelines are needed for directing the conservation management of cryptogams, for example the establishment of buffer zones around water bodies, formal reserves etc. Long-term monitoring will be required to assess the effectiveness of such guidelines (see Section 4.6 & 5.7) and managers will need training to ensure that guidelines are applied properly (see section 1.6.5 and point 4 (b) below).
e) Catchment-based management
Adoption of a more conservative, whole-of-catchment approach to land and water management will assist in the conservation of cryptogams-as with other biota. This is of particular relevance, for example, to the freshwater algae, where land-based activities have considerable indirect impact on the habitat quality of waterways.
a) Public awareness
Amongst the public and decision-makers there is a need to improve awareness and knowledge of the biodiversity and important ecological role of cryptogams, and of their potential significance as a source of useful substances or functions (see Section 1.7). Suggested strategies include:
- a series of information brochures for national parks, reserves, botanic gardens etc. (making use of the flagship taxa in Appendix C);
- development of field guides and simple handbooks to the various taxonomic groups.
- resource kits for primary & secondary teachers, e.g. interactive CD-ROM games;
- workshops for non-specialists, and continuing education classes such as the University of the Third Age (U3A);
- cryptogamic gardens and reserves.
- scientific media programs;
- discovery trips, e.g. SW Tasmania, to sample cryptogams and re-locate more taxa.
b) Land managers
Land managers-both in the conservation and resource production fields-should be informed about cryptogams and (once identified) their conservation requirements (see Section 1.6).
Scientists in all biological disciplines-ecology, genetics, applied science-need to be educated about cryptogams. Better integration of cryptogamic botany is recommended into all relevant tertiary curricula.
5. Additioinal recommendations for fungi
Due to the size of the group and the especially poor state of knowledge, the following additional recommendations are included for fungi (for details see Section 5.7 and 5.8). These recommendations, particularly (c), apply in large part also to the algae.
a) Working Group on Fungal Biodiversity
As with the other groups, the most important action to improve the conservation status of Australian fungi is to increase the number of workers in taxonomic and ecological mycology.
Because of the current fragmented approach to taxonomic mycology in Australia, in terms of institutions and personnel, it would be beneficial to set up a Working Group on Fungal Biodiversity. Such a Group would:
- review the existing institutions and personnel involved in taxonomic and ecological research on Australian fungi;
- consider how best to increase resources in these areas;
- consider the co-ordination of the various organisations currently engaged in taxonomic mycology – expansion of the National Collection of Fungi and the establishment of a National Institute of Fungal Biodiversity are options that should be examined;
- ensure that there is a reasonable coverage of all major groups of microfungi and macrofungi in herbarium holdings and in research; and
- ensure that at least some new positions are for taxonomists undertaking work specifically on conservation aspects of fungi.
b) Habitat-based conservation approach
Because knowledge of individual species of fungi is poor, and will remain so in the near future, adequate conservation of most Australian fungi can currently be achieved only through a habitat-based approach (see also Recommendation 3a). In order to be more than just a platitude, the habitat-based approach must be supported by thorough research. It is vital to get some estimate of how effective existing reserves are in conserving fungi. Research on this question must be carried out immediately because the results will determine the effectiveness of the conservation of the bulk of the species of fungi for the foreseeable future.
A national network of sites at which fungal biodiversity can be recorded by collaborative teams of fungal taxonomists appears to be the most efficient and cost-effective method of rapidly improving broad-scale knowledge of fungal distribution and also of carrying out initial investigations into the relation between the distribution of species and communities of fungi with other factors. Such sites also provide the opportunity to monitor fungi over the long-term in order to provide baseline data against which to measure the effect of any future disturbances such as those caused by global climate change.
In order to facilitate several necessary research programs, it is recommended that a workshop be organised by an appropriate group within Environment Australia. The workshop should discuss:
- the concept of a national network of sites for recording fungal biodiversity, and the aims and scientific format of such a network;
- the most effective means of investigating the extent to which fungi are adequately conserved by the existing reserve system; and
- the availability and training of personnel and the likely sources of funding for these research programs.
c) Current research work
Projects that are already in place should aim to include fungi at the same level of detail as other groups of the biota. This is especially so for the Flora of Australia.