A recent study revealed that there are more than 10,000 species of fungi in North America alone.
Which means it’s no surprise that one of the study’s authors, Assistant Professor of Biology at Stanford Kabir Peay, explained that fungi are much more important than most people realize.
“They are the primary decomposers in most of the planet’s ecosystems,” he says, “and if not for them, dead material would accumulate to the point where most other biological processes on Earth would grind to a halt.”
In an article for Futurity, Bjorn Carey-Stanford refers to the populations of fungi hard at work in pine forests as an invisible machine underground.
“Huge populations of fungi are churning away in the soil, decomposing organic matter and releasing carbon into the atmosphere,” writes Carey-Stanford.
This study of fungi is a branch in biology known as mycology, which includes studying the genetic and biochemical properties of fungi, their taxonomy and their use to people and animals in various capacities.
Last year, one Assumption alumna, Arleen Bessette ’73 — mycologist, psychologist and photographer — co-authored a mushroom reference guide called Ascomycete Fungi of North America, along with Michael Beug and Alan E. Bessette.
The book features more than 850 photographs and more than 600 described species of Ascomycetes.
According to Bessette’s book, the ascomycete phylum comes in a variety of forms and makes up approximately 75 percent of all fungi. Included in this are the elusive and popular morels and truffles, which people hunt for every spring for their great flavor.
While fungi falls into its own kingdom outside of the study of plants, it is relevant to various courses Assumption bachelor’s in biology students take, including ecology and botany. Mycology plays an important role in the study of energy flow, nutrient cycling, community dynamics, succession and patterns of species diversity that students study in these courses.