Fungi Are Everywhere!
Fungi are amazing organisms. They’re widespread, diverse and often neglected. They are not plants, algae or bacteria but a separate group of eukaryotic organisms with their own unique biology.
These fascinating organisms have some intriguing attributes that set them apart from other plant-like organisms. They lack green chlorophyll and cannot make their own food through photosynthesis. Instead, they have other ways of getting nutrition such as by digesting dead plant matter or by partnering with another organism to get what they need.
Fungi can be found in almost any area and climate on the planet, from frozen arctic soils to hot volcanic deserts in Tanzania, or even in your backyard! Here is an overview of the biology of fungi from the rainforest to your refrigerator.
What Are Fungi?
Fungi are a group of organisms that lack chlorophyll and cannot make their own food. They also are not plants, bacteria or algae. Fungi are eukaryotic organisms with their own unique biology that includes a variety of species. This includes familiar organisms such as mushrooms, yeast, lichen and molds. Fungi are important organisms that form symbiotic relationships with other organisms and contribute to our daily lives in many ways.
They help to break down and recycle dead organic matter, which is important for the health of our soils. Fungi are also used in the production of food and beverages, and in the production of many medicines.
Where Can We Find Fungi?
Fungi are everywhere! In soil, decaying wood and other organic materials, as well as on our food. Some of the most common ecosystems where one can find fungi include:
- In the Forest Floor - In forested ecosystems, organisms like mycorrhizal fungi are important for nutrient cycling and plant growth.
- In the Soil - In agricultural ecosystems, fungi are essential for plant growth. They also break down organic materials and help release nutrients for plants.
- On Decaying Material - In many ecosystems, fungi are important for breaking down dead organic materials.
- On Our Food - In our homes and our food supply, fungi help with food preservation.
- On Skin - In our bodies, fungi are important for health. There are also many fungi that can cause disease.
The anatomy of fungi is very different from that of plants. Fungi have an absorptive surface called a mycelium. Mycelia are long, branching, thread-like structures, sometimes called “roots” that function as the plant’s digestive system and its network for collecting and transporting nutrients. Fungi have a variety of cell types and reproductive structures.
Although they do not have true vascular systems, their cell walls are made of cellulose, which is very similar to the structure of plant cell walls. Fungi also have specialized cells that aid in the process of sporing, or producing and releasing spores, which are the “seeds” of fungi.
About Fungal Growth
Fungi are unique because they can grow in many different ways. Some fungi, such as mushrooms, grow above the ground while other fungi, such as yeast, grow below the ground. Fungi can grow in almost any environment and on a wide variety of materials. They can grow on dead plants and animals, rocks and plastic. They can even grow on other fungi!
Fungi that live on dead plants and animals are called saprobes, fungi that live on dead wood are called wood rotters, those that grow on rocks are called lichens, and fungi that grow on walls and ceilings are called moulds.
Diversity of Fungi
There are an estimated 1.5 million species of fungi, and new species are being discovered all the time. However, it is estimated that only about 10% of all fungal species have been identified and named. One reason why it is difficult to identify new species is that some species can look different in different conditions and habitats.
Some fungi are microscopic and exist as single cells, whereas others can be very large and cover large areas, such as the Honey Mushroom, which can grow up to 10 meters in diameter. Fungi are found in almost all ecosystems, with the exception of very arid regions. They are found in forests, deserts, and even in the Arctic where they help to break down the remains of dead organisms.
Importance of Fungi
Fungi are very important organisms that form symbiotic relationships with other organisms and contribute to our daily lives in many ways. They help to break down and recycle dead organic matter, which is important for the health of our soils. Fungi are also used in the production of food and beverages, and in the production of many medicines such as penicillin, used to treat bacterial infections. Fungi also help to decompose dead organisms and make nutrients available for other plants, which is important for forest health. In addition, fungi (perhaps unfortunately) help to break down the materials that make up our buildings, cars, etc. This is important because if we did not have fungi, these materials would stay in place for thousands of years.
Fungi are amazing organisms that are widespread, diverse, and often neglected. Despite their incredible biology, most people overlook them. Fungi differ from other organisms in that they lack green chlorophyll and cannot make their own food through photosynthesis. Instead, they have other ways of getting nutrition such as by digesting dead plant matter or by partnering with another organism to get what they need.
Fungi are a large collection of organisms that do not come from the plant kingdom, the animal kingdom, or the bacterial kingdom. They have a unique biology and are critical for many ecosystems.
Hopefully, this article has inspired you to become more curious about fungi!