The Kingdom of Fungi

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A (very) brief introduction

           Fungi are neither plant nor animal. While they may be seemingly more plant-like than animal-like in their appearance, fungi are more related to animals than they are to plants. At a glance, the kingdom fungi is a very diverse group of organisms, of which the mushrooms are the most commonly known members. There are however, many more thousands of microscopic species (Watling).

Figure 1. Hyphae (the long, white filaments) colonize the substrate, in this case, a decomposing log.
     Fungi are linked together by some common aspects including being composed of long filaments called hyphae (Figure 1). which are long tubes which filter their way through a substrate. The hyphae can be broken up into individual segments, or hypha. When hyphae is concentrated together it forms mycelium, which is the "vegetative" state of the fungus (when viewing it from a plant's perspective), or the "body" of the fungus (when viewing it from an animals perspective). The mycelium penetrates a substrate in which it can grow, move through, and eat (Watling). Eventually, the mycelium produces fruiting structures, commonly called mushrooms (Figure 2).

      Fungi are the mainstay of terrestrial ecosystems by playing crucial roles in decomposition, nutrient cycling, and symbiosis with plants and animals (Mandarino). Fungi recycles and engineers the soil that allows plants to grow. Without mycorrhizae, fungi that form beneficial symbiotic relationships with the roots of trees and other plants, forests and grasslands would be sparse and unhealthy. Fungi can decompose the dead and they can control the growth of insects. Fungi can provide food and nourishment to some. Humans use fungi for everything from food, to medicine, to education, and religion.

Figure 2. Pleurotus sp., the Oyster mushroom growing in cultivation. Notice the white substrate (mycelium) giving rise to fruiting bodies (mushrooms).

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