The Role of Fungi in Nature

| March 27, 2013

mushroomFungi are among the greatest and most powerful transformers of our planet.

Transposers of Matter

They act as the intermediaries between death and life by disassembling decaying, dying and dead organic matter. The fungus dismantles this material on a molecular level and transmutes the complex physical forms of that which is no longer alive, breaking them down into their basic constituents, which can then be utilized as food and sustenance for living things.

Fungi serve as midwives between the dead and the living, and one of their main functions is the perpetual recycling of the essential building blocks and life-giving components used by living organisms.

In dark shadowy places, in deep in wild murky forests, beneath piles of rotting matter, and just under the surface of the earth, fungi are continually at work recycling the decomposing bodies of plants and animals.

A number of fungi species, including many medicinal mushrooms, have the unique ability to break down the hard woody branches and trunks of trees. And anyone who’s ever spent any time sawing or chopping wood knows that it is an extremely heavy, dense, substantial, and difficult to penetrate material.

If it weren’t for fungi, the world would be full of rotting, stinking, un-decomposed animal corpses and plant material.

When plants and animals consume nourishment throughout the course of their lives to grow and thrive, their DNA coalesces the micronutrients contained in their food and uses them to build the large, complex cellular structures that comprise their bodies.

Without fungi to break down all the large molecules of animal and plant bodies into their simpler constituents, this material would remain locked up in their dead bodies in a form unusable by living things, and eventually there would no longer be any basic nutrients whatsoever for new organisms to consume.

So without fungi, life as we know it would cease to exist.

Even though we don’t necessarily very often witness fungus at work or think about how integral it is to the perpetuation of life in our world, fungal organisms and the vital functions they perform are indeed extremely important to the life cycle of the earth’s myriad flora and fauna.

Although we do sometimes see fungi doing its job, but in ways that seem to be harmful or damaging.  For instance when mold or mildew grows in our tubs, showers, bathrooms, or in other places around our homes that we’d prefer it didn’t.  Or perhaps when fungus begins to sprout from decks or siding or other external woodwork that’s exposed to moisture.

These kinds of situations are challenging for us, but when encountering these types of circumstances we need to remember that when fungus shows up this way it’s really just there to do its job of breaking down organic matter into its simpler constituents

Interspecies Networkers

Many fungi have symbiotic relationships with other species of organisms. This is especially true with regard to the alliance between mycorrhizal fungi and plants, many of which have a synergetic connection beneath the surface of the soil as the fungi’s hyphae, or small hairlike filaments, interlace with plants’ root systems.

This subterranean interactivity between species fosters a mutually beneficial exchange of nutrients and food between the plants and the fungi. The fungi provide water, minerals, and other substances to plants’ roots in a form that’s assimilable to them, while the plants provide carbohydrates to the fungi in the form of simple sugars such as glucose and sucrose.

Some animals also have a reciprocal mutualistic relationship with fungus, as in the case of South American leaf-cutting ants known as Atta laevigata, which live in the rainforest. These insects spend a great deal of time and energy cutting large quantities of leaves from living plants. However rather than consuming these leaves as food, they use them as fodder to cultivate a particular strain of fungus, and it is the fungus which is these ants’ primary source of food.

Not all fungi have symbiotic relationships with other species in nature though. Some fungi, such as Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, whose fungal spores land on certain insects only to take hold and consume the bugs’ bodies from the inside out – killing the ant in the process – are actually parasitic.

cordycepsEven we humans have fungal based species within our own bodies, for instance the yeast based organism candida albicans, which comprise an aspect of our inner ecosystem, or gut microbiome.

When our internal terrain is balanced and homeostasis prevails, candida is a normal, healthy part of our natural gut flora. However when that physiological balance is perturbed and disrupted, say because of the use of broad spectrum antibiotics which can destroy certain bacteria that would otherwise normally keep candida in check, this can cause an overgrowth of candida resulting in chronic yeast infections or candidiasis.


The renowned mycologist Paul Stamets and others have been conducting research demonstrating some fungi’s phenomenal ability to neutralize and eliminate toxic waste. Considering the polluted state of our world, this is fantastic and valuable knowledge for humanity to know that certain species of fungi actually have the ability to consume the toxic waste by utilizing it as food, essentially eradicating it by transmuting it through their own existence.

Members of the fungal kingdom are clearly a very strange and curious lot! But their presence in our world as a part of the wider diversity of living organisms is surely extremely important.

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Category: Conscious Land Stewardship, Friendly Flora, Fungi, Gut Dysbiosis, Gut Symbiosis, Medicinal Mushrooms, Medicinal Mushrooms | Culinary, Mildews, Molds, Mycoremediation, Mycorrhyzal Fungi

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