Fungi play an essential role in maintaining a healthy, balance ecological system and fulfilling a number of important functions in nature, yet they are often overlooked compared to other organisms. Fungi are a hugely diverse group of organisms which belong to a domain of their own. They can be microscopic in size or reach up to several metres large. Fungi interact with other organisms and the environment in unique and vital ways, from decomposing wood and other organic matter, to playing vital roles in nutrient cycling and aiding plant growth by providing essential nutrients and stimulating the immune system.
Agreed, the reality is far from what is shown in the series. The Last of Us. There, the apocalypse is unleashed by the fungus. Cordyceps. It is true that some can be dangerous. But it is important to know the true role of fungi on the planet.
Fungi play a medullar role in the balance of each region. “They fulfill various functions [en la naturaleza]one of which can be degrading. They are the kings in the matter and the main bodies in charge of [de realizar esta acción] with organic matter. Otherwise, we would have an impressive accumulation of corpses on our planet”. Sandra Castro Santiuste, PhD in biological sciences and specialist in the study of fungi, explains.
Communication with plants
By carrying out this process, the remains of decomposed matter are transformed into elements that the Earth takes advantage of. “Fungi participate in these cycles by returning nutrients to the Earth. They are saprophytes,” says the expert. Another of their functions is to “watch over” the conservation and health of forests. These cover 31% of the planet’s land surface.
“Almost 80% of the plants that inhabit our planet are related to fungi. What does this mean? Plants give sugars to fungi, an element that they cannot acquire on their own. In turn, they provide them with minerals. Phosphorus and nitrogen, for example”.
This interspecies communication occurs through the mycelium. This is the set of fungal cells and is known as hyphae. “The mycelium connects with the roots of plants. This allows the exchange of nutrients.”
The association between roots and mycelium is known as mycorrhiza. Its third “role” in nature is to parasitize others such as plants, animals and humans. This causes diseases known as mycoses.
“They maintain balance in the populations of other organisms by carrying out this action,” they point out. Apparently, the fungal apocalypse, happily, is nowhere near. And the real role of fungi is much more important than you might think.