Flora, fauna and … funga: campaigners call for new term for conservation talks

The word “funga” should be used alongside flora and fauna when discussing conservation issues to reflect the importance of fungi to ecosystem health, campaigners have said.

The Fungi Foundation said in a post on a social media account of the secretariat of the UN convention on biological diversity (UNCBD) that it was time fungi were “recognised and protected on an equal footing with animals and plants in legal conservation frameworks”.

“Whenever referring to the macroscopic diversity of life on Earth, we should use ‘flora, fauna and funga’, and ‘animal, plants and fungi’,” it said in an Instagram post.

Mycologists, mostly from Latin America, established the term “funga” five years ago. It refers to the levels of diversity of fungi in any given place, and is analogous to “flora and fauna”, which refer to plants and animals. Unlike flora and fauna, it is not a Latin term but was chosen because it is morphologically similar.

“Just like mycelium, mycologically inclusive language will spread unseen but profound [sic], permeating public consciousness (and policy) to acknowledge fungi’s vital role in the grand web of life on and in Earth,” it said.

Government agencies in AustraliaBrazilIceland and elsewhere have picked up on the word. Its creation and use reflects an increasing appreciation of the fungal kingdom and how it connects the plant world through an underground mycelial network.

“Through language, we can trigger change,” the chief executive of the Fungi Foundation, Giuliana Furci, said. “It gives us an opportunity to look at nature as an interdependent set of ecosystems: If we concentrate on fungal conservation, we can protect whole habitats.”

On the invention of the phrase “fauna, flora and funga”, she said: “We wanted something catchy that could incorporate fungi into the conversation.”

In a joint piece for Time this year, Furci and the biologist and author Merlin Sheldrake wrote: “Accounts of the living world that do not include fungi are accounts of a world that doesn’t exist.

“Fungi have long sustained and enriched life on Earth. We are unthinkable without them, and yet we are only just beginning to understand the intricacies of fungal lives. It’s time we give them the attention they deserve.”

Jennifer Kahn is a contributing writer for the magazine and the narrative-program lead at the U.C. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Alexander Coggin is an American maker of photographs, films and theater. He is based in London, Berlin and Michigan.

This article was originally by Jennifer Kahn for the New York Times on June 8, 2023. You can find it here