The Field Museum is regionally the most important resource for information on fungi and holds one of the largest collections in the country, with close to 250,000 specimens, including mushrooms, microfungi, and lichens. Adjunct Curator Dr. Leacock with the help of volunteers studies the fungi of the Chicago Region and North America. In addition, the museum has very active research in lichens under the direction of Dr. Thorsten Lumbsch.
The collections of macrofungi in The Field Museum herbarium date back to an 1842 specimen of Daldinia (carbon balls) from Ontario, an 1845 specimen of Astraeus (earthstar) from Effingham County, Illinois, and an 1857 specimen of Morchella (morel) from the District of Columbia. The oldest specimens from the Chicago Region are from 1876 (Lycoperdon, puffball, Cook County) and 1882 (Morchella, morel, McHenry County).
More recently collected specimens are conducive for molecular work, which is important to accurately assess species diversity and systematic relationships and often aids in the primary identification of little known or novel fungi. The Field Museum has a very active herbarium loan program and these collections that are accessioned with such metadata and searchable online are an invaluable resource for the research community.
Digitization of Chicago Region Fungi
Digitization of collections opens up access to the research community and the public outside the museum. Databasing of the herbarium mushroom collection began in the late 1990’s with specimens from the Midwest. In the past two decades, the museum has secured funding to restructure and digitize the majority of its fungal collections, including macrofungi and microfungi, and lichen collections. These collections include specimens from the Chicago Region spanning 140 years of history from very early collections towards the more recent, large-scale inventories on long-term plots. Several years ago, 2,300 records for the region were imported into the new museum-wide Ke EMu data system first implemented by the Botany Department. Recently, the museum was involved in the NSF-funded large-scale TCN Macrofungi Collection Consortium project with the label-digitizing and barcoding of the macrofungus collections. The companion NSF-funded project covering the microfungi operated from 2015 to 2017.
Museum volunteers are working with the remaining historical specimens from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. These older specimens were in packets on herbarium sheets. The repackaging into boxes or tins will be followed by databasing, creation of new labels, and barcoding, so that they can be added to the online herbarium database. Many research and foray collections need to be selected for accession into the herbarium: database completion, boxing, labels, barcoding, and filing, plus the data and images imported into the museum’s online collections database.
The digitization and import of data and images into KE EMu and its tailored portal will raise the visibility and usability of the region’s collections online, the largest urban data set in the country with over 11,000 collections available online. Also this will allow the museum's data to be fully searchable on the national MyCoPortal, gaining prominent visibility with the interactive distribution maps generated on that portal, and further on the international GBIF portal.