By Sandra Nomoto
Pioneering the Study of Fungi in Chile and Beyond
In the last few decades, Giuliana Furci has become the biggest promoter of the study and protection of the fungi kingdom in Chile. The founder and CEO of Fundación Fungi (Fungi Foundation), she is the first female mycologist of non-lichenized mushrooms in Chile.
She was born in London, England to a Chilean mother and Italian father and lived in London until 1993. Furci started her career in 1999 as a self-taught amateur. Her drive to study Chile’s fungi led her to travel the country looking for fungal fruit bodies in different environments and ecosystems.
In 2012, she founded Fungi Foundation. In 2013, Chile became the first country in the world to include the fungi kingdom in its environmental legislation, allowing Chilean funga to be included in the study and evaluation of environmental impacts, which mandated its incorporation into the national inventory of species, among other obligations.
In 2014, she began curating the FFCL Fungarium, a collection of dehydrated fungi indexed in the Index Herbariorum, coordinated by the New York Botanical Garden. “FFCL” is a term assigned to the collection as the first exclusive collection of fungi in Chile. It’s continuously studied in collaboration with experts from Harvard University, Conicet Argentina, University of Florida, and other institutions.
The Fungarium contains samples from all over the world, the oldest samples dating from the 1960s and 70s. There are constantly new species in the process of identification. It contains unique species such as Amanita galactica (Furci & Dentinger 2020).
Among Furci’s many publications are Fungi Austral-Field Guide, which contains detailed descriptions of mushrooms in Chile, and two volumes of Field Guide to Fungi of Chile, the only books with photos of Chilean fungi species in their natural habitats. She also co-authored Chilean Biodiversity, Heritage and Challenges, Microforests of Altos de Cantillana, State of the Worlds Fungi—the first worldwide report organized by Royal Botanic Gardens KEW—and Louie Schwartzberg & Paul Stamets’ Fantastic Fungi.
The Fungi Foundation’s Project Fe (which stands for “Fungal Education”), aims to create a global mycology school curriculum so we teach as much about fungi in schools worldwide as plants and animals.
“If you’re going to talk about a cell wall and they still don’t know what a cell is, it’s not going to fly!” Furci told the Fungal Diversity Survey (FDS). “This is probably the hardest part, for a global level curriculum.” Project Fe has collaborated with the Fantastic Fungi team to bring the curriculum into a final draft form. It is now being broken down and paired with relevant disciplines. The Fungi Foundation also wants to expand the number of people contributing to the discovery and documentation of fungi species worldwide through a citizen science program.
FDS reports that the delimitation of the term Funga was published in 2018 by Furci, Francisco Kuhar, Elisandro Ricardo Drechsler-Santos, and Donald H. Pfister in the International Mycological Association’s flagship journal, IMA Fungus.
“Funga is the new word to use in exchange for Mycoflora, Mycobiota, and Mycota. These terms are unclear, outdated, and ‘just incorrect,’ ” she said in the interview with FDS. She intimated that the study of fungi deserves a nongovernmental organization to show the threats, opportunities, attributes, and justice to the “fungal Queendom.” The reticence to adopt fungal independence has to do with internal funding, policy, and the fact that separating fungi from botany for some institutions leaves fungi with zero budget. She said that if we want fungi to have opportunities equal to plants and animals, we need to make these changes. If not, it will be excluded or left behind (fundis.org).
In 2020, Fungi Foundation started a chapter in the USA to formalize its work on a global level.
Furci has given lectures, courses, and seminars in more than 10 countries around the world across 4 continents. She is a Harvard University Associate, co-chair of the IUCN Fungal Conservation Committee, and is a member of several mycological societies and associations.
Among her recognitions are the 2013 President’s Award from the International Society for Fungal Conservation in Turkey, and the Salzman Award from the Telluride Mushroom Festival in the United States in 2018 for her repeated significant contribution to the festival.
You can find her recently published papers on ResearchGate here.
Furci currently lives between Santiago and Curarrehue in Chile, with her son Lucas León.