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The Diversity of Fungi

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  • 0:07 Fungi Are Diverse
  • 0:56 The Five Groups of Fungi
  • 3:12 Mold, Yeast, Lichen…
  • 5:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

The Fungi Kingdom is unique and quite diverse. In this video lesson, you'll learn about the different groups of fungi and see how fungi are much more than just mushrooms and molds!

Fungi Are Diverse

When you hear the word 'fungus' you probably think of a mushroom. But fungi are so much more than that. In fact, when you think of mushrooms, which make up only part of the Fungi Kingdom, you can probably think of several different types: button, chanterelle, shiitake, portabella and so many more!

Still not a believer in the diversity of fungi? Think about this: scientists have already described over 100,000 species of fungi, though there may be many more - possibly as many as 1.5 million! The fungi species that have been described are classified into five groups. The names are tricky, but you may notice that each group ends in the suffix 'mycetes.' So, whether you can remember the tongue-twisting names or not, if you see this suffix, you'll know it's a fungus!

The Five Groups of Fungi

Our first group is Chytridiomycetes, thought to be the oldest group of fungi. We often find these fungi in lakes, ponds, estuaries and soil. Many species in this group are decomposers, meaning that they break down dead organic material. But other species are parasites of plants and animals and are responsible for many infections in amphibians.

Next, we have the group Zygomycetes, which you have probably interacted with at some point. Some fungi in this group are fast-growing molds, such as black bread mold and molds that rot the fruit you left sitting out on the counter too long. So, should you eat that rotting fruit? I wouldn't go near it!

Our third group is Glomeromycetes, which are very important fungi. This is because about 90% of plants form symbiotic relationships with glomeromycetes, which help deliver nutrients to the plant while receiving other necessary nutrients in return. Like a 'conglomerate' is multiple parts combined together, Glomeromycetes combine with plants to form a strong team.

Fourth, we have the group Ascomycetes, also known as 'sac' fungi. These fungi get their name from their sac-like structures called 'asci.' 'Asci' comes from the Greek 'asco,' which means pouch, so literally this group name means 'pouch-fungus.' These live in a wide variety of habitats (marine, freshwater and terrestrial) and can range in size from unicellular yeast to fancy morel mushrooms (yum!). Not always the good guy though, Ascomycetes are also some of the most devastating plant pathogens.

Finally, we have the group Basidiomycetes, also known as 'club' fungus. This is what most people imagine when they hear the word 'fungus' because these are many of the mushrooms, puffballs and shelf fungi. They get their name from their club-like reproductive structure called a 'basidium,' which literally means 'little pedestal' in Latin. Now imagine these types of fungi again, and you can see how they got their name! Many of these fungi are decomposers, like the shelf fungi that break down wood in forests. But they also include many devastating plant parasites as well.

Mold, Yeast, Lichen and Mycorrhiza

You just got some big terms that will take some time to digest, so let's talk about a few that you are probably somewhat familiar with already. I mentioned mold earlier, and this you have likely seen in many forms on your food or on your shower walls. Mold is simply any rapidly growing fungus that produces spores asexually. I'm sure you've seen how quickly mold can grow if you went away for the weekend and left some fruit sitting out on the counter.

I also mentioned yeast, which are single-celled fungi. Yeast also reproduce asexually and really like liquid or moist habitats. And, to show you that not all fungi are bad, yeast are responsible for delicious things like beer and bread (before you let it get moldy!).

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