Mycological discoveries in the Middle East region in the second part of the last century

Document Type : Original Article


Department of Systematic & Evolution, Natural History Museum, Paris, France


The arid Middle East extends over 9 million km² in the Eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea. Interest in the fungi of this region after the Second World War led to the discovery of species then regarded as being new to Science. A scan of the Index of Fungi issued in the period running from 1940-2000 revealed that 240 novel taxa had then been proposed. The recorded novelties were examined following the chronology of their introduction, their distribution in the local fifteen political states and their gross taxonomic characters at the Class level. These new additions were characterised at the rate of 40 units / decade. Most originated from Egypt, Iraq and the Palestine-Israel area and relate to the Classes Mitosporic Fungi, Ascomycetes and Basidiomycetes. All together 145 generic names are reported in this group of novelties; twelve were based on type material collected in Egypt (5 genera), the Palestine-Israel area, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon and Sudan. The present group of novelties was also surveyed in relation to the nature of the substrate sustaining the selected holotypes. The relevant Mitosporic fungi (93 taxa) were equally isolated from soil or from living or decaying plant parts. For Ascomycetous novelties (86 taxa), although their soil-borne elements outnumber the plant related ones, several also developed on other types of substrates. In the case of novel Basidiomycetes (37 taxa), the plant-parasitic species encompass those collected on the ground surface. Finally, a limited number of these novelties disclosed notable thermotolerant abilities and some even qualify as thermophiles. The main features of these novel records underlines that in Egypt more attention was awarded to the local Mitosporic fungi and to Ascomycetes inhabiting its soil-borne communities. For the Basidiomycetes (sensu lato) marked interest developed solely in the Palestine-Israel area while in Iraq taxonomic studies focussed on Ascomycetes including those developing on dung substrates. The distribution of the few reported Chytridiomycetes, Zygomycetes and ‘Oomycetes’ also proved to be restricted to the former three states. Present data clearly underlines limited interest has been awarded to the fungi of a region presumed to harbour a specific mycobiota due to its marked arid features. Since 1940, only four novel taxa were thus proposed per annum from a small fraction of the Middle East. Future research should focus on plant related forms of lower (basal clades) and higher (Dikarya) fungi of the area. Conservation measures should also be adopted to ensure an adequate protection of the natural local habitats against the negative pressures generated by the increase in population and the detrimental effects of its activities. Finally, in view of the overwhelming implication of mycology in the fields of biotechnology, significant knowledge of the Middle East fungi is promising.