The Evolution of Fungal Diversity

Past, Present, and Future
  • Amy Y. Rossman


Fungi are an heterogeneous assemblage of eukaryotic organisms united by an absorptive mode of nutrition in which they grow through the substrate, secreting degradative enzymes and absorbing nutrients. Because of this absorptive mode of nutrition, the fungi are ubiquitous, intimately associated with their substrates, and able to degrade a diverse range of organic and inorganic materials. The breakdown of substrates, primarily organic materials, by fungi results in the cycling of nutrients that is crucial for long term ecosystem maintenance. The relationships of fungi with their nutrient sources ranges from that of: obligate parasites, often causing serious diseases of plants, animals, and humans; obligate mutualists, as in the arbuscular mycorrhizal associations of the Glomales with roots of crops plants and in the anaerobic chytrids in the rumen of ruminant animals; obligate commensals, as in the Trichomycetes, a specialized group of fungi that exist in the hind guts of insects without causing any apparent harm to the host; to facultative relationships, primarily as saprobes degrading all kinds of plant material from simple sugars to the complex carbohydrates, lignin and chitin, often in specialized habitats, for example, yeasts fermenting flower nectar, as well as serving as hosts for viruses. Fungi often form complex communities interacting with other organisms inhabiting the same substrates. Thus, fungal diversity is reflected in the diversity of substrates available for fungal exploitation throughout evolutionary history and into the present and future.


Vascular Plant Fungal Species Downy Mildew Fungal Diversity Arbuscular Mycorrhizae 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amy Y. Rossman
    • 1
  1. 1.Systematic Botany and Mycology LaboratoryUSDA-Agricultural Research ServiceBeltsville

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