Book review - The Fungi

Submitted by nordicjbotany on 24 May 2016.

Book review (by Subject Editor Klaus Høiland)

Watkinson, SC, Boddy, L, Money, NP. (eds.) 2016. The Fungi, Third Edition. Academic Press, Elsevier, Waltham, San Diego, Oxford, London. ISBN 978-0-12-382034-1

As a teacher in mycology, I and my colleagues have always faced the problem of lack of suitable textbooks, especially at the level above bachelor, i.e. master or doctoral courses. Therefore the actual book is very relevant and welcome.

First of all, the textbook is very comprehensive, dealing with all aspects of mycology: from fungal diversity to fungi in ecosystems; from fungal conservation to fungi in biotechnology; from fungal cell biology and physiology to fungi as symbionts and pathogens; from fungi in medicine to fungi in production of food and drinks, and so forth. Altogether 12 main chapters well organised into several paragraphs.

Second, it is very modern, taking into concern up to date research employing methods, such as metagenomics, phylogenetic and statistical analyses and molecular clocks. Other modern aspects are presentation of fungi in a world of climate change and fungi and biotechnology. A plethora of relevant literature follows each main chapter, most of the references not older than year2000.

I will pick up some aspects that appeal to my main interests: fungal diversity, fungal mutualism, fungal evolution, and fungi in ecosystems.

Chapter 1: Fungal diversity gives an up to date overview of Kingdom Fungi where six phyla are considered. Problems of definition of Zygomycota as a phylum are addressed, and Microsporidia as a new member of Fungi is discussed. A brief overview of miscellaneous organisms studied by mycologists, e.g. Oomycota and slime moulds, is also included. The division of phyla into subordinate groups is based on molecular studies. This has great consequences for mycologists trained in the traditional a system based on sporocarp structures such as agarcoid, polyporoid, hydnoid, corticoid and gastermycetoid fungi of Basidiomycota, or apothecia, perithecia and cleistothecia in Ascmycota. These are no longer natural entities. For instance Russulales (Basidiomycota), which traditionally comprised only the ectomycorrhizal genera Russula and Lactarius, now contains fungi with poroid, corticioid, hydnoid, and even coralloid sporocarps with saprotrophic or parasitic ecology.

Chapter 7: Genetics – variation, sexuality, and evolution starts with defining fungal individuals, populations and species, three concepts important for population genetics, ecology and conservation. A fun fact: the largest organism on Earth is probably a North American Armillaria species occupying more than 8 hectares and more than 1000 years old. Life cycles, mating systems, sexuality and a lot of other fascinating, but complicated aspects of the fungal reproduction are explained in an easy to understand manner. Aspects of microevolution and speciation are taken up in a broad concept, also valuable for people outside mycology.

Chapter 7: Mutualistic symbiosis between fungi and autotrophs deals with mycorrhiza, lichens and endophytes. The three most important mycorrhiza types: arbuscular mycorrhiza (AM), ectomycorrhiza (ECM) and ericoid mycorrhiza are given comprehensive treatments, featuring many excellent photographs and schematic illustrations. AM fungi are monophyletic and very old. They have been found in the rhizomes of petrified early (vessel-less) land plants in rocks from Ordovician, 460 Mya. Arbuscular mycorrhiza thus pre-dates vascular plants with roots and would have associated with the first green plants to colonise the land. On the other hand ECM symbiosis is polyphyletic, having arisen in at least ten clades of fungi (mostly Basidiomycota, but also Ascomycota). A chronogram shows that ECM Basidiomycota may have diverged during the simultaneous divergence of angiosperms around 100 Mya. Considering lichens, it is very interesting to read that a lichen thallus is often more than only a fungus and its alga (or cyanobacterium). It may be a consortium with an unknown number of participants, e.g. many bacteria and endophytic fungi. The lichen symbiosis is polyphyletic. It is interesting that saprotrophic Ascomycota, like Penicillium and Aspergillus, may have had a lichenized past that probably have endowed them with important biochemical pathways for the synthesis of bioactive secondary metabolites including penicillin. Endophytes, i.e. fungi growing inside plants, are also a fascinating aspect, where members of clavicipitaceous fungi are important. Endophytes may produce bioactive alkaloids protecting the host plants from animal browsing.

Chapter 11: Fungi, ecosystems, and global change, demonstrates both the breadth and the deepness of the text book. This is a chapter that should be read not only by students in mycology, but by all people interested in nature conservation and ecology. Especially interesting – although I may be biased because I am engaged in the field – is the paragraphs focusing climate change response of fungi. This is a very new field of research, pinpointing how the textbook manages to introduce the most modern trends in mycological research.

I will not go further in my review, but finally conclude that the text is extremely easy to read. It is full of valuable information and likewise full of interesting facts, which will introduce the reader to the fascinating world of the Fungal Kingdom.

Klaus Høiland