Mushrooms are neither animals nor plants. Instead, they belong to different living organisms called fungi. While most of them know the role of plants as well as herbivores and carnivores in the ecosystem, the role of fungi is often mushrooms.
So, what role do mushrooms play in the ecosystem? Why are mushrooms important to the food chain? Clear your query with the valuable information here.
Why Are Mushrooms Important To The Food Chain?
Mushrooms are decomposers that break down organic material to release nutrients for microbes, plants, and other decomposers.
There is no denying that they are critical to ecosystems and the food chain as they can draw nutrients from the soil, decompose dead wood and recycle nutrients back into the ecosystem. This helps to release nutrients that plants and animals consume in the ecosystem.
Bacteria are also common decomposers. However, unlike mushrooms, they can only break down the surface layer of their food source.
Meanwhile, the mycelium can penetrate deeper parts of harder materials such as wood. After that, the fungus begins to release enzymes responsible for decomposition.
Some mushrooms are even the only ones that can break down lignin, which is a tough substance that protects the cell walls of plants.
In addition, they have a few other essential functions but are not really well known.
With that in mind, what would an ecosystem be like without mushrooms?
As mentioned above, mushrooms break down dead trees and decaying plants and animals. So without these mushrooms, deadwood, or other hard-to-break-down stuff would never have decomposed naturally.
That means the surface of our planet would be teeming with piles of dead wood and animal carcasses.
What Are Mushrooms?
Mushrooms are neither animals nor plants. They belong in a kingdom of their own, separate from animals and plants. They are found in freshwater, marine, as well as terrestrial environments.
They differ from animals and plants in the way they get their energy. Animals eat and then digest their food to get their necessary energy and nutrients, while plants make their food using solar energy through a process called photosynthesis.
Yet, mushrooms do it in a very different way.
Their mycelium grows around or into their food source. They then release their special enzymes that digest the energy source to the outside. Finally, their mycelium absorbs the digested nutrients. The more they are exposed to the air, the more nutrients they absorb.
Different types of mushrooms will grow in different conditions. In general, they tend to grow best in humid climates. The ideal conditions for mushrooms’ growth are a humid environment with a temperature of 65 degrees F and about 90% humidity.
Mushroom Is The Food Source
Mushrooms can exist underground for a long time. Yet, they will produce a spore-producing organism for reproductive purposes when exposed to the right conditions.
Long ago, people discovered that these spore-producing organisms tasted delicious and called them “mushrooms.”
Humans are not alone, as mushrooms make up a significant part of many animals’ diets, such as the long-nosed potoroo, which is native to Australia. Plus, caribou also eat mushrooms during winter when plants are not available.
Many invertebrates also consume mushrooms. For example, stream invertebrates gain extra energy when they consume dead leaves that have been decomposed by mushrooms growing on them.
So, what is the nutritional content of mushrooms?
They contain a fantastic amount of vitamins A, B, and C, folic acid, and valuable minerals like zinc, magnesium, calcium, and iron.
That’s not all. Mushrooms are also a great source of immune-boosting vitamins like Vitamins D and E and Omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered essential for eye and brain health. According to many studies, one serving of mushrooms contains almost 20% of the recommended daily value of Vitamin D for humans.
Advantages of Mushrooms In Gardening
Some fungi and plants form a symbiotic relationship with each other, which benefits both organisms.
For example, some mushrooms are naturally incapable of photosynthesis due to a lack of chlorophyll. So, some species have a symbiosis with plants like Mycorrhiza species live in the plant roots and take advantage of the energy and carbon of the plant. In turn, this fungus breaks down compounds and provides nutrients to the plant
Lichens are also another fungus that builds symbiotic relationships. However, instead of doing it with plants, lichens symbiotically with cyanobacteria. Lichens voluntarily provide shelter for cyanobacteria while cyanobacteria produce energy and carbon for lichens through photosynthesis.
So, plants wouldn’t be able to absorb some minerals from water and soil without the help of mushrooms. In contrast, mushrooms will struggle to find sugar compounds or carbohydrates without the plant.
There is no denying that the parasitism of mushrooms is beneficial for your garden. It accelerates the death of plants to make room for a new and more vital life.
However, in many cases, this is harmful to crop yields. For example, according to research by the Science Electronic Library Online (SciELO), the infection of mushrooms can reduce cocoa yields by up to 90%.
The saprophytic properties of mushrooms help wood or other organic matters break down faster than their ability. So it makes mushrooms in your garden not actually the bad thing.
The Bottom Line
When you learn about why are mushrooms important to the food chain, you can realize their larger role in the environment as well as ecology.
Besides being a valuable food ingredient to humans and many other animals, they can break down dead wood and decaying plants and animals to free up nutrients that other plants and animals consume.
While most of the contributions of mushrooms to the ecosystem are positive, there are also some downsides, though it is insignificant.
Hopefully, after you read this article, you will be ready to be all set to extoll your wisdom when someone asks about the role of mushrooms.