Fungal Associations And Decay

Fungal communities occupying forest ecosystems are dynamic and usually diverse, consisting of assemblages of organisms that interact with their surrounding abiotic and biotic environment (Boddy 1992; Rayner and Boddy 1988; Shearer 1995; Widden 1997; Zak and Rabatin 1997). Nevertheless, the unit community for each resource type often reveals distinct dominants and recurring associations of species during degradation (Dighton 1997; Frankland 1992). Consequently, prominence has often been given to the sophistication of the nutritional physiology of individuals when attempting to understand or explain fungal community development and successions. Thus, many explanations have centered around leagues of simple substrate groupings, or assemblages of individuals with particular degradative repertoires, simply following changes in resource quality as decay proceeds (e.g., Park 1968). Such a simplistic view should be considered with caution, as it tends to obscure other important ecological adaptations. It is also suggested that the term succession itself should be used with caution when describing fungal community development, particularly within certain resources such as wood. Terms such as substratum succession (Park 1968), and resource succession (Frankland 1992) may be misleading in suggesting simple order, thereby obscuring the actual complex multidimensional dynamics involved, which may follow a diverse array of optional pathways (Boddy 1992; Cooke and Rayner 1984; Renvall 1995). However, Frankland (1992) emphasized that the term succession should "accommodate a multidimensional phenomenon not a simple linear process" so as to include features such as environmental fluctuation, cycles and disturbance, life-cycle changes, and mycoparasitism without replacement.

But how should fungal ecology be best studied? Synecological studies are valuable in investigating the range and complexities of fungal communities, particularly when underpinned with appropriate sampling techniques and statistical analysis. Considered autecological approaches can then target specific hypotheses. However, the indeterminate nature of the fungal mycelium clouds palpable identification of an appropriate scale of study, as interactions occur within a continuous hierarchy of spatial and temporal scales (see "Modeling Fungal Decay Communities"). Many patterns identified at a small scale may become less evident or significant at larger scales and vice versa. Furthermore, such features may be relatively insignificant under a particular set of environmental conditions, but ecological change or disturbance may augment their importance. Thus information derived at a variety of temporal and spatial scales is clearly most likely to contribute to a genuine understanding of fungal ecology. The future challenge will be linking information derived from differently scaled studies in an appropriate manner.

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