A Sarawak Forestry Corporation Sdn Bhd biologist Rose Ragai showing a species of fungal.

LUNDU: Sarawak is hosting the first Southeast Asia Fungal Red List Workshop at Gunung Gading National Park here.

The aim of the five-day workshop, which began on Monday, is to make the public aware of the importance of fungi besides being a supplementary food source, said Urban Planning, Land Administration and Environment Assistant Minister and Sarawak Forestry Corporation Sdn Bhd (SFC) chairman Datuk Len Talif Salleh.

The workshop is organised by SFC and University Malaysia Terengganu (UMT) with the assistance and support of the Urban Development and Natural Resources Ministry, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Chicago Botanical Garden and IUCN SSC Specialist Group.

“As the custodian of flora and fauna conservation for the state, it is a significant start for us as the fungi conservation kingdom is the least studied in comparison to others,” said Len.

He pointed out that although the fungi kingdom was one of the key components in the ecosystem, its contributions were still poorly known and rarely acknowledged.

“With the workshop, the fungi species status in this part of the world can be understood well and recorded, thus providing updated information in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) database.

“It will then enable better categorisation of the fungi red list which is crucial as some fungi may already be at the critical stage or at risk of extinction due to habitat loss and other land use conversions and natural habitats degradation,” added the Assistant Minister.

Len pointed out that Sarawak had always advocated the establishment of Totally Protected Areas (TPAs) such as national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and nature reserves for the purpose of conservation of habitats and ecosystems.

“Sarawak has an area of 12.4 million ha, which is about one third of the whole of Malaysia, and 6 million ha are set aside for Permanent Forest Estates (PFE).

“And out of the 6 million ha, 1 million ha is converted into TPAs which comprise national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and natural reserves. The remaining 5 million ha will remain as natural forests.

“Seven million ha out 12.4 million ha will be for plantation forestry or conservation forestry and 3 million ha out of the 7 million ha will be used for agriculture plantation, native customary rights (NCR) and alienated land,” he explained.

Len revealed that the state had over 62 TPAs comprising both land and water bodies with a total area of 2,037,321.4 hectares (ha).

SFC chief executive officer Zolkipli Mohamad Aton, in his text of speech read out by SFC general manager Oswald Braken Tisen, said fungi was equally threatened, like any other forest inhabitants, by habitat loss, loss of symbiotic hosts, pollution, over exploitation and micro-climate change.

“Therefore, we should act fast to gather as much information and baseline database as possible as many fungal species have not been assessed.

“For instance, there are only 75 species published in the IUCN globally and in Malaysia, we only have one species that was published,” he pointed out.

Participants of the workshop include experts in the fungi conservation from Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Philippines, Belgium, Germany and USA.

A Sarawak Forestry Corporation Sdn Bhd biologist Rose Ragai showing a species of fungal.