Aquatic fungi – forgotten conservation targets

by the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences 
May 19, 2022

They are always there, dwelling in the water, where they play a key role in food webs, in cycling of nutrients, matter and energy, and water purification. However, as happens with organisms that tend to be inconspicuous and often invisible to the naked eye, society mostly neglects them, and forgets their huge importance in providing support and stability of aquatic ecosystems. What is even more problematic, we also forget that they are exposed to a wide range of threats from human activities. Without proper conservation measures, their populations can decline and go extinct just like all of the other, more conspicuous aquatic organisms, with unforeseen consequences for marine and freshwater ecosystems. This was the object of a study by an international team led by researchers from the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences, as well as from the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) in Germany, and the University of Coimbra in Portugal.

In their paper, published recently in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment (, the authors have addressed the problem of a lack of attention towards aquatic fungi as potential conservation targets. “So far, IUCN Red List of Threatened Species includes assessments for only a small number of fungi, and all of those assessed also comprise only terrestrial macrofungi”, states Mariyana Vatova, one of the lead authors of the study. “What complicates such assessments is that many groups of aquatic fungi are poorly studied, and many species are yet to be discovered and described.”

Another problem is that rare studies that were focused on conservation threats to aquatic fungi were almost exclusively limited to risks from the release of fungicides. “However, many other pollutants can affect fungi and their delicate networks, such as pharmaceuticals, metals, microplastics, and nutrient pollution”, says Hans-Peter Grossart from IGB, another author of the study. “What is even more worrying is that we know almost nothing about the other threats that they are likely facing. Some of the major threats for aquatic fungi include habitat modification and degradation, biological invasions, and climate change.”

Keep reading:

Read the Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment paper: