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How many fungi?

Daniel B. Wheeler dwheeler at ipns.com
Wed Sep 5 08:59:49 EST 2001

"Colin A. B. Davidson" <cabd2 at hermes.cam.ac.uk> wrote in message news:<9n500j$4hn$1 at pegasus.csx.cam.ac.uk>...
> "Daniel B. Wheeler" <dwheeler at ipns.com> wrote in message
> news:6dafee1b.0109010714.23c083f0 at posting.google.com...
> (CUT)
> > BTW, the above total may sound overestimated by some. But when such
> > things as rusts, smuts, ectomycorrhizae, endomycorrhizae, soil, and
> > compost actinomycetes are added,
> Whoah there!
> Sorry to seem a pedant, but the actinomycetes are bacteria, not fungi :-)
I'll take your word for it Colin. I have not studied the actinomycetes
yet. But they sure sound similar to basidiomycetes and ascomycetes.
Then, of course, there's the Termite mushrooms, Termitomyces... Sounds
like the same to me.

Of course, there's a lot of fungi I don't recognize yet. That's what
happens when you don't get a degree in mycology, I guess.

> >it doesn't seem an overestimate (at
> > least to me) at all. Then you have the newly discovered endophytic
> > fungi, found inside the living leaves of trees and plants, only a few
> > of which have ever been examined to date... I remember reading about
> > some 40-60 endophytic fungi being found on the inside of Douglas fir
> > needles in the 90's, a single tree species. Who knows how many pine
> > endophytic fungi there are?
> Excellent posting, Daniel. Thanks.
> A couple of things to add, though.
> Firstly, the total number of fungal 'species' is always going to be
> impossible to evaluate, as the very concept of 'species' is difficult to
> define for many of the species that reproduce primarily asexually.
Agreed. Certainly with as many as 60 different *varieties* of fungus
actually being different sexual and asexual stages, coming close to a
final total is going to be problematic. <G> And it does kind of
presuppose one can grow or cultivate all of those forms, doesn't it?
OTOH, DNA work certainly adds greatly to the possibilities.
> Secondly, the extrapolation is based upon the total number of fungal species
> present in the UK. While this is probably the best data we have for anywhere
> in the world, it's still going to be an understatement of the total fungal
> diversity present. Even now, flicking through copies of Kew Bulletin I find
> that novel fungi are being identified in the UK. And in terms of the
> microscopic fungi that have proven to be such an invaluable source of
> enzymes and pharmaceuticals the 'viable non culturable' phenomenon so
> familiar to bacteriologists (i.e. the organisms seem to be there but we've
> no idea how to isolate them and grow them, let alone identify them) comes
> into play.
I suspect (only a guess here) that many bacteria may be symbiotic with
fungi. That would explain some of the bizarre relationships present in
the world, such Kambucha tea and chanterelles. Kambucha tea, according
to Paul Stamets, is actually a complex intersymbiosis between two
oolitic fungi and two bacteria. And Dr. Eric Danell has shown that
Cantharellus cibarius forms a relationship with a bacteria: one that
is _usually_ present, even if he is unwilling to say _always_ present
at this time.
> I guess what I'm getting at is that the total fungal diversity of the planet
> is going to be vast, quite probably exceeding this speculative total.
Perhaps. But is that 1.5 million figure a good starting point? Is it
really reasonable? Extrapolation is so comparative. <G>

I'm even more interested now in the endophytic fungi that Dr. Bill
Dennison and others have been working with. Apparently these
endophytic fungi offer unusual naturally occuring insecticides which
mutate rapidly. While they _do_ kill a cell or two in the Douglas fir
needles already tested, they also provide protection for the tree from
insect outbreaks, such as Gypsy moth and other conifer parasites. How
shall these fungi be labelled? How many more exist? Are the present in
hardwood leaves as well? How exactly are they able to disperse? Is it
totally by wind, or are there other symbiotic pathways involved?

Daniel B. Wheeler

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