At the risk of preaching to the choir, we all have been smitten by this unique, remarkable, mysterious, diverse, truly alluring group of organisms. Too many adjectives? Yes, but that’s how I generally stumble through my explanation when someone asks me the inevitable question, “How did you end up getting a PhD in …fungus?”, (that last word spoken with raised eyebrow and a certain wry twist of upper lip). Truth be told, I was a botanist, until I took a mycology course on a whim. I am therefore an “accidental mycologist”. You are probably one, too. You probably have a story to tell of your own discovery of the fungi, and have found yourself explaining to others how “unique, remarkable, mysterious, etc...” (see first sentence, above) these organisms are. Such is the inexplicable allure of fungi.
Even if we’ve arrived at mycology “accidentally”, we find ourselves diving into a daunting pool of knowledge, widened and deepened by centuries of research and discovery. Memorizing a few scientific names and diagnostic characteristics is soon not enough for those of us now held in thrall by fungi; we want more, we need more. We can’t help getting the feeling that “barcoding” and the “ITS region” might be arcane topics, but understanding modern methodologies of fungal identification and phylogeny has already become essential. But how and where to start? The comprehensive overview provided in a college-level Mycology course would be the obvious way, but that may not be a feasible option for most of us. This lecture is intended to provide an overview of the kingdom fungi (including phyla such as slime molds and water molds, once considered fungi) and the history of nomenclature and taxonomy (including traditional morphology-based, and current molecular-based methods). Hopefully the lecture will provide an organizational framework for the avalanche of new information coming our way as “accidental mycologists”. The crucial importance of fungi in the biosphere is finally being revealed, and the field of mycology is starting to get the recognition it deserves.