Giuliana Furci: Appreciating the fungi kingdom

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Giuliana Furci. Photo: Fungi FoundationGiuliana Furci. Photo: Fungi Foundation
 
 
By Valentina Gonzalez
Translated by Holly Pepper

They break down dead and dying organisms, restoring nutrients back into the cycle of life. Without them, the world would be one big garbage dump. They nourish, transform, and sustain, as they spread beneath our feet, creating a vital interface between all life forms.

They are fungi.

In Chilean Patagonia, the fungi are especially prevalent in forests. Considered the digestive tract of a forest, at a microscopic level trees form an intracellular connection with fungi – a structure called ectomycorrhiza is created when the hyphae penetrate the secondary roots of a tree. This fusion between fungi and trees is beneficial to both, such as helping to protect trees from some pathogens. The great variety of fungi species in the forest also aids in capturing more carbon.

Fungi are ubiquitous among our culinary pleasures, from beer and wine to yogurts and cheese and, of course, to the many varieties of mushrooms. They are also key ingredients of countless medicines and chemicals.

 

Cotinarius in Karukinka Park, Tierra del Fuego. Photo: Fungi FoundationCotinarius in Karukinka Park, Tierra del Fuego. Photo: Fungi Foundation

 

 

Mycena chusqueophyla. Photo: Fungi FoundationMycena chusqueophyla. Photo: Fungi Foundation       Ramaria flava, or changle. Photo: Fungi FoundationRamaria flava, or changle. Photo: Fungi Foundation

 

One of the world’s leading experts on fungi is from Chile. Giuliana Furci, 42, is considered the first female field mycologist in Chile. Early in her professional career she worked on salmon farming issues with the Terram Foundation and Oceana, but she has been involved in mycology issues from her youth. Giuliana began studying mycology when she was 19 and was self-taught, as there were no available courses on fungi in Chile. Then, as part of a project with Fundación América, she spent six years travelling around her native country, documenting all of its fungi. When she finished her trip, Giuliana felt it was her responsibility to continue working with fungi, dedicating her life to create a mycological platform for Chile. "I wanted to make sure that no one felt they had to leave the country to be mycologists," she says.

Eventually, Giuliana created the Fungi Foundation (FFungi) in 2011 with the goal of guaranteeing mycological opportunities. FFungi is the first of its kind – the first non-governmental organization (NGO) anywhere in the world set up for the protection and dissemination of fungi. Thanks to its work, in 2012 Chile also became the first country in the world to include the fungi kingdom in its environmental law. Today, Chile now legally recognizes plants, animals, and fungi within the macroscopic diversity of the planet. Concretely, that means when evaluating the environmental impact of any proposed development project in Chile, the protection of the various species of fungi must be considered in the balance.

 

Giuliana looking for fungi in Tierra del Fuego. Photo: Fungi FoundationGiuliana looking for fungi in Tierra del Fuego. Photo: Fungi Foundation 

 

But her work is not limited to Chile. Giuliana is currently organizing a campaign called FaunaFloraFunga, with the aim of including fungi in the international regulatory framework, at the level of the United Nations and other international fora. Among the many scientists, activists, artists and others who have already signed on to support the campaign include Jane Goodall, Michael Pollan, Kristine Tompkins, and Andrew Weil.  "We want to stop all legislation, such as international treaties, from referring to nature as only plants and animals, and instead talk about plants, animals and fungi. We want the fungi kingdom to be recognized in the language as flora, fauna and fungi," she explains.

The Fungi Foundation was born in Chile, but it is now global in scope. They have a network of international collaborators, including Peruvian-Australian actress Nathalie Kelley, and last year opened an office in Brooklyn, New York, formalizing a new stage in the expansion of their work. "It is likely that globalization will continue," says Giuliana, who hopes that the organization can transcend the existence of its founder, strengthening networks with mycologists in other countries and protecting fungi on an international scale.

 

Geastrum fornicatum. Photo: Fungi FoundationGeastrum fornicatum. Photo: Fungi Foundation

 

As part of its participation in environmental education, FFungi’s website launched the citizen campaign "What you see, matters" with the aim of involving people with their mycological heritage. For this, a scientific collection protocol was prepared, which teaches how to collect and properly store each newly discovered sample. Within these citizen discoveries, it is possible that data on new distributions and even new species may appear, since only 5 percent of the diversity of fungi in the world is known. "Another aim of this campaign is to increase our knowledge of the diversity of fungi in Chile, and the world," says Giuliana.

In Patagonia, places like Karukinka Park in Tierra del Fuego, Magallanes National Reserve in Punta Arenas, Torres del Paine Park in Magallanes, Queulat Park in the Aysén region and the surrounding areas of Puyehue Volcano are must places to go when collecting mushrooms, Giuliana tells us, revealing that these are her favorite destinations for the research and conservation of fungi.

To find out how to support the Fungi Foundation, visit ffungi.org. And don’t miss the sixth version of Fungifest (www.fungifestchile.com), which runs this week until Sunday, June 20. This year, it will be held online and will be completely free with lectures, panels and workshops.

 

 

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