Christensen, Martha Department of Botany, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming.
Stone, Jeffrey K. Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon.
Wubah, Daniel A. Department of Biological Sciences, Towson University, Towson, Maryland.
Last reviewed:January 2020
- Significant features
- Applied ecology
- Ruminal gastrointestinal tract
- Interactions of fungi and microorganisms
- Related Primary Literature
- Additional Reading
The subdiscipline in mycology and ecology that examines community composition and structure; responses, activities, and interactions of single species; and the functions of fungi in ecosystems. The fungi, as they have been historically classified, comprise organisms from two distinct evolutionary lineages: the true fungi, or Eumycota; and the Oomycota, which are allied with chrysophyte algae in the separate kingdom Chromista. The oomycetes resemble the true fungi in having a filamentous growth form and occurring as plant parasites or free-living saprobes (organisms living on decaying organic matter) in soil or decaying vegetation. The slime molds, or Mycetozoa, are another distinct group in the kingdom Protista. These organisms display an extraordinary diversity of ecological interactions and life history strategies, but are alike in being efficient heterotrophs. In all ecosystems, producers (generally plants and some bacteria) synthesize cell components by using solar energy to chemically reduce carbon dioxide and assemble carbohydrates into the complex polymers of cell walls. Heterotrophs consume and disassemble, obtaining energy from the catabolism of photosynthetically formed carbohydrates and other molecules. Fungi and bacteria are the primary decomposers, facilitating the flow of energy and the cycling of materials through ecosystems. Both classes of organisms occur wherever there is organic matter. With an estimated 1.5 million species worldwide, of which only about 5% have actually been named, the fungi rank just below the insects in biodiversity. See also: Ecological energetics; Fungi
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