Tuesday, March 29, 2011
What a Fun-gi
Fungi, the dominant decomposers of most environments, are commonly looked over in most of the required classes that college students have to take. They are a huge part of the Eukaryotic lineage but because many people are mostly interested in animals and how they interact with each other and their environment, fungi are sometimes left in the dark. (No pun intended.)
These important decomposers are involved in degrading many types of material such as dead plants, living or dead woody material, dead animals, animal fecal matter, and other types of organic matter. When I say that fungi are capable of degrading living woody material it may be a new fact that you have not heard before. Some fungi are capable of degrading wood for animals that create nest in the open cavities.
Fungi are also capable of forming symbiotic relationships with plants or with algae. Lichens are a good example of a symbiotic relationship that is formed between fungi and algae. These lichens are so dependent on one another to live that if they were separated, (which is nearly impossible to do anyways) they would not be able to survive on their own. They can also form associations with plant roots and form mycorrhizae. In both of these types of association, lichens and mycorrhizae, the fungi and the algae or plant benefits from the relationship. Not only are they capable of forming good relationships, fungi also form bad relationships such as parasitism to other plants and animals.
Many food processes also use fungi for fermentation. Yeast, a type of fungi is used in many different processes such as alcohol and bread production. So not only do the fungi provide a way to decompose living or dead organic matter, it also provides services in various associations with plants and algae as well as providing food services. It has so many different uses but is still not heavily focused on in various Biology related classes. The processes that most commonly are discussed are the mycorrhizal associations and the lichens. Both of these are very important but fungi also provide many more important services that could be focused on in more depth.