Mushrooms produce a large variety of structurally and biosynthetically quite unique secondary metabolites. Some of them provide the sessile organisms with highly effective chemical protection against fungivores. In order to be protected against different threats, many fungi produce an array of secondary metabolites that are active against nematodes, feeding insects, microorganisms, or competing fungi.

Some defense strategies strongly resemble defensive traits from the marine environment (e.g., halogenated aromatic compounds) and also many parallels can be drawn to the defense mechanisms of plants (HCN, lipox-ygenase signaling). However, the same defense principles may be realized using alternative precursors and pathways, for example, oxidative release of HCN instead of hydrolytic cleavage of cyanogenic glycosides in plants. Compounds with highly reactive dialdehyde or a,/3-unsaturated aldehyde moieties stored as safe precursors are widespread among mushrooms similar to plant, animal, and marine defense strategies (see Plant Defense, Animal Prey Defenses, and Defense Strategies of Marine and Aquatic Organisms). Judging from the known examples, it seems that activated defense strategies are very common among mushrooms offering not only the potential for effective defense but also preventing self-intoxication.

Nevertheless, the ecological role of most secondary metabolites isolated from fungi is still obscure. Therefore, focusing on the ecological role of fungal secondary metabolites for the producing organisms will provide more insights in the defense strategies of mushrooms and will reveal the intriguing differences as well as similarities to the defense mechanisms of other organisms.

See also: Animal Prey Defenses; Defense Strategies of Marine and Aquatic Organisms; Evolution of Defense Strategies; Plant Defense.

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