Introduction to the Ecology of Fungi

Describe the role that fungi play in the ecosystem

Fungi play a crucial role in the balance of ecosystems. They colonize most habitats on Earth, preferring dark, moist conditions. They can thrive in seemingly hostile environments, such as the tundra, thanks to a most successful symbiosis with photosynthetic organisms like algae to produce lichens. Fungi are not obvious in the way large animals or tall trees appear. Yet, like bacteria, they are the major decomposers of nature. With their versatile metabolism, fungi break down organic matter, which would not otherwise be recycled.

Fungi are important to everyday human life. Fungi are important decomposers in most ecosystems. Mycorrhizal fungi are essential for the growth of most plants. Fungi, as food, play a role in human nutrition in the form of mushrooms, and also as agents of fermentation in the production of bread, cheeses, alcoholic beverages, and numerous other food preparations. Secondary metabolites of fungi are used as medicines, such as antibiotics and anticoagulants. Fungi are model organisms for the study of eukaryotic genetics and metabolism.

What You’ll Learn to Do

  • Describe the importance of fungi to the balance of the environment
  • Identify some mutualistic relationships of fungi with other organisms

Learning Activities

The learning activities for this section include the following:

  • Decomposers and Recyclers
  • Mutualistic Relationships
  • Self Check: Ecology of Fungi