Why It Matters: Fungi

Why discuss the organisms in Kingdom Fungi?

A dead tree lays on the forest floor. The tree is covered in mushrooms, which work to decompose the wood.

Figure 1. These wood-decay fungi play an important role in a forest’s ecosystem. Without the removal of old trees, there would be no room for new growth.

Perhaps the most recognizable fungi are mushrooms and yeasts, which can be found in everyday cuisine. However, fungi play other roles in the daily lives of human beings: they act as medicines, serve as pesticides, and play an important role as decomposers in the ecosystem. Decomposers are organisms that break down dead or decaying organisms, and in doing so, they carry out the natural process of decomposition. Like herbivores and predators, decomposers are heterotrophic: they use organic substrates to get their energy, carbon and nutrients for growth and development. Without decomposers, dead organisms would not decay and make room for new life. In this module, we’ll learn more about just how fungi decompose and recycle nutrients.

In addition to their roles as food and decomposers, fungi can serve in a variety of other functions. Yeast is often used to aid in the fermentation of wines and beers, and penicillin is an important antibiotic with broad usage.

Learning Outcomes

  • Identify the common characteristics of fungi
  • Classify fungi into unique categories
  • Describe the role that fungi play in the ecosystem
  • Identify common fungal parasites and pathogens