Table 13.1. Fungal contributions to Ecosystem Services you can find in this book

An ecosystem is defined as a dynamic complex of plant, animal, and microorganism communities, together with the non-living environment, interacting as a functional unit. Humans are an integral part of ecosystems. Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. Ecosystem services are usually grouped into four broad categories, to which we have added ecosystem goods, defined (in the left-hand column, below) as follows:
Ecosystem Service category Fungal contributions See Section
Provisioning such as the production of food, water and other materials Food: this includes the vast range of food products derived from plants, animals, and microbes. So, the fungal contribution ranges from mushrooms of several different sorts, morels and truffles, cultivated and collected, through yeast extracts, mycoprotein (a filamentous fungus isolated from field soil), and all those fermented foods (bread, cheese, salami, soy sauce and other soya products, tempeh and miso) but also including meats and dairy products because our farm animals can’t digest grass without their anaerobic fungi. 3.3
11.2 to 11.6
17.18 17.20 17.23 17.24 17.25
And drink? Not usually mentioned, but where would we be without beers, wines and spirits? The yeasts deriving, even if in prehistory, from natural ecosystems. Citric acid’s fizz and the preparation of fruit juices using fungal enzymes are other contributions. 17.13 17.14 17.16
Materials such as wood, jute, hemp and many other products are derived from ecosystems and depend on plants, which all depend on mycorrhizal fungi to make their roots work adequately. 13.9 to 13.17
Similarly, water supply depends on erosion control, which needs vegetation for soil retention and the prevention of landslides. Vegetation depends on mycorrhizal fungi. 13.9 to 13.17
Climate regulation. Ecosystems influence climate by either sequestering or emitting greenhouse gases. Wood decay fungi have influence here by releasing chlorohydrocarbon volatiles from timber, and by recycling C and N from the soil. 13.2
13.7 13.17
Regulating such as the control of climate and disease; can have impact on local or global climate over time scales relevant to human decision-making (decades or centuries) Water supply. As mentioned above, changes in vegetation, such as conversion of wetlands, the replacement of forests with croplands, or croplands with urban areas, change the water storage potential of the ecosystem. All of which depend on parallel changes in mycorrhizal fungi. 13.9 to 13.17
Waste treatment. Ecosystems can be a source of impurities in water, but fungal bioremediation can decompose organic wastes introduced by agriculture and/or industry into inland waters and coastal and marine ecosystems. 13.2
Regulation of animal and human diseases. Changes in ecosystems can directly change the abundance of pathogens, leading to emerging fungal infectious diseases that seriously endanger clinical practices and threaten animal extinctions in nature.  16.1 to 16.10 16.11 16.12 18.3
Regulation of plant diseases. Rarely specifically mentioned in these discussions, but fungal diseases dominate in plants, potentially causing sweeping damage to plants of the forest and urban environments (like Dutch Elm Disease), as well as crucial crop plants like rice and wheat.  14.3 to 14.8 14.11 14.12 14.17
Biological control. Fungal pathogens can alter the abundance of crop and livestock pests and diseases. 13.19 15.6 16.14 16.15
Supporting services  maintain the conditions for life on Earth over extremely long times Prime examples of supporting services are photosynthetic primary production using CO2 and water, and photosynthetic production of atmospheric oxygen. At least 90% of the terrestrial plants that do this depend on mycorrhizal fungi for their adequate nutrition. 13.8 to 13.16 13.17
Soil formation is another long term supporting service to which fungi contribute their abilities to degrade and manipulate minerals, accumulate metals, and the lichen terrestrial pioneer primary producers, which are mutualistic associations made by fungi with algae and bacteria. Polymers produced by the most widespread mycorrhizal fungi (glomalin) control the structure of mature soils 1.2 to 1.8 6.8
13.3 13.18 17.22
Nutrient cycling is a continued supporting service provided by fungi by their ability to secrete enzymes into ecosystems that can digest even the most recalcitrant materials (like lignocellulose) to capture the various nutrients those materials contain. Mycorrhizal and saprotrophic fungi recycle major nutrients for later release by the former to their plant associates, while the many mycophagous animals (small and large) benefit by eating the mycelia and fruit bodies of both. Importantly, fungi also contribute to water cycling in ecosystems; mycorrhizas are major suppliers of water to their hosts and saprotrophs translocate water over considerable distances. Section 14.10 shows how the Rhizobium-legume symbiosis, which assimilates atmospheric nitrogen into organic compounds, makes use of molecular components derived from the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal partner of the legume to create its symbiotic interface. 1.4 to 1.7 9.7
10.1 to 10.11 11.1
13.2 13.10
Removal of natural wastes (which means dead and dying organisms) from ecosystems is an aspect of the nutrient cycling described in the previous section. However, contaminating wastes, which are mostly the result of human activities can be recycled by fungi because they are so adept at producing degradative enzymes. The process is generally called bioremediation.  10.1 to 10.11 13.6 17.22 17.26
such as spiritual and recreational benefits
Contributions of fungi to human cultural activities extend into prehistoric times. Without anaerobic fungi to digest the grass they eat there would be no large herbivores to provide skins for clothes, horn for tools or sinews for prehistoric bows and for binding flint arrow heads, handles to blades or spear points to spears. So not much hunting, though there would still be mushrooms to gather. 3.3
15.5 17.20
The Neolithic traveller known as ‘Ötzi the Tyrolean Iceman’ had three separate fungal products among his equipment; one was clearly used as tinder, the others possibly medicinal. Psychotropic fungi have been used since ancient times for mystical purposes by witch doctors and shamans. 11.3
13.4 16.13
‘Flowers used as ornaments’ are normally included in this category. One of the largest families of flowering plants, and arguably the most ornamental, are the orchids. Orchid seedlings are non-photosynthetic and depend on the endomycorrhizal fungus partner for carbon sources; seedling stage orchids can be interpreted as parasitising the fungus. 13.9 13.14
Ecosystem goods
This category depends on biodiversity as the source of many such goods
All plant materials that serve as sources of energy (wood, dung, other biomass fuels) depend on mycorrhizal fungi enabling the plant to grow in the first place. 13.9 to 13.17
Increasingly, yeast fermentation of agricultural wastes is being used for fuel alcohol production. 17.13 17.22
Many of today’s most widely used pharmaceuticals were ‘found by accident’ as products of fungi in natural ecosystems and then developed into industrial chemicals for global use. Traditional medicines (including nutraceuticals) also derive from fungi collected from natural ecosystems and now cultivated commercially.  17.15 17.19
18.1 to 18.4 18.14
Many industrial products, fine biochemicals, biocides, food additives, and enzymes for processing food and other goods, have been developed from metabolites originating from fungi isolated from natural ecosystems. 17.14 17.16 18.14
Production of all natural fibres depends on fungi providing nutrition to the organism that makes the fibre; industrial processing, laundering and conditioning of fabrics made from such fibres depends on fungal enzymes. 11.3
11.6 17.16
Foods depending on fermentation (with a variety of fungi) resulted from traditional use of microbes from natural ecosystems. The foods include mycoprotein, soya foods, tempeh, miso, ang-kak. 17.18 17.25
Genetic resources are included in this category. This includes all genetic information used in strain breeding and biotechnology. It’s also worth remembering that we must thank research with yeast for most of what we know about eukaryote cell biology, genetics and molecular biology. 18.5 to 18.13
The final topic in this category is usually ‘Storm Protection’. It’s not obvious how fungi can contribute to this, but the normal explanation is that coral reefs can dramatically reduce the damage caused by hurricanes or large waves, so a negative impact of fungi could be aspergillosis disease of coral.


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This is a Resources Table from the 21st Century Guidebook to Fungi: © David Moore, Geoffrey D. Robson and Anthony P. J. Trinci 2019