Interactive tools for identifying fungi
Identification of fungi can be complicated. Genera are often defined by a combination of characters, and there is much variation due to developmental and environmental factors.
Traditional dichotomous keys emphasise clear differences at each step in the identification process, and force the user to follow a pre-determined path through the key. Interactive (multiple access) keys offer greater flexibility because they allow the user to select which character they wish to address at each step in the identification process. Where there is uncertainty in which character states are present, the user can select more than one state for a given character. Users can also utilise particular subsets of characters that they are familiar with (for example, avoiding microscopic characters if they wish). Interactive keys offer much promise for rapid and accurate identification of macrofungi, suitable for a wide range of users.
We have developed FunKey, an interactive key to the genera of Australian macrofungi, using Lucid software. The key covers the agarics (gilled fungi), a group that includes edible and poisonous mushrooms, ectomycorrhizal fungi such as Amanita and Cortinarius and saprotrophs such as Gymnopilus and Mycena.
A novel feature of FunKey is the creation of identification units that address difficulties caused by the heterogeneity in morphological characters present in many large genera. For example, within Cortinarius most species have spores with warty ornamentation, but there are a few species with smooth spores. Removing the smooth-spored species to a separate identification unit streamlines the identification process. This is because when identifying a smooth-spored specimen, the main group of Cortinarius species is removed as a possible identification, rather than being retained if Cortinarius were scored as having rough or smooth spores.
There are many advantages for the user of interactive keys. However, compilation of the underlying matrix of taxa by character states is a painstaking and time-consuming process. This is especially the case for fungi, where there are usually no recent monographic treatments from which to directly compile data. The data matrix for the agaric genera has been put together from published and unpublished information on individual species within each genus. The matrix contains 57,000 taxon/character state combinations.
The FunKey key to Australian agarics covers 159 identification units across 106 genera. The key includes comprehensive fact sheets on each taxon. There is also extensive introductory information about the 116 characters and 361 character states used in identification of agarics along with a glossary.
- Tom May (Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne)
- Kevin Thiele (Western Australian Herbarium)
- Chris Dunk (Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, 2010–2013)
- Simon Lewis (Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne, 2001–2004)
- Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS)
- May, T.W., Thiele, K., Dunk, C.W. and Lewis, S.H. (2014). FunKey: an Interactive Guide to the Macrofungi of Australia. Key to Agarics. Version 1. [USB.] Identic, Brisbane and ABRS, Canberra.