Box 71 Fungal diversity

In the world as a whole there are far more fungal species (many of them still not described) than there are of vascular plants, which they outnumber by at least 6 to 1. Around 200 000 species have so far been described worldwide and it is thought that 1.5million species exist (Hawksworth, 1991). The range of fungi is generally greater in the tropics and subtropics than elsewhere, particularly so in fungal groups dominated by decomposers, though pathogens and beneficial symbionts are also common (Lodge, 1997). The amount of food available, the diversity of habitats and the sheer host diversity (numbers of plants and animals) are thought to be the main contributors to high fungal diversity in the tropics, with diversity in certain groups of decomposer fungi being strongly related to host diversity.

Fungi are divided into the macro- and microfungi, the main difference being the size of the fruiting body. Macrofungi produce the familiar mushrooms while microfungi produce fruiting bodies hard to see with the naked eye and include such organisms as moulds, mildews, and many diseases such as rusts and smuts, including the many Phytophthora species (see Section 5.4.4) and the chestnut blight, Cryphonectria parasitica (Section 5.4.6).

The majority of decomposers in forests (as well as the majority of mycorrhizal fungi - Section 5.4.1) are macrofungi, readily seen in the autumn by the abundant fruiting

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