I’ve previously Written About How How Fungi & Plants Benefit One Another, But Not Explained The Full Details. In this Post I Provide More Information.
The soil fungi of most interest here are called mycorrhizal fungi. Mycorrhiza refers to the way the fungus grows in association with the roots of plants.
Mycorrhizal fungi aren’t parasites. They (normally) have a symbiotic relationship with plants, so both the plants and fungi benefit. It’s of mutual benefit and is often called a mutualistic symbiotic relationship.
The fungi are provided with sugars and other products they obtain via photosynthesis. In return the fungi grows deep and wide into the soil and provides water and minerals to the plant.
In addition to the mutualistic exchange of products the fungi links plants together via the fungal hyphae network that is often referred to as the Wood Wide Web. This means that plants can “talk” to one another and also share resources. I’ve written about how plants talk to one another in another post.
What I’ve yet to discover is if the ability the fungi give for plants to “converse” is of benefit to the e fungi. No doubt science will answer this soon.
When Fungal/Plant Symbiosis Goes Wrong
Most of the time the relationship between symbionts works well. But just occasionally it goes wrong and the fungi become parasitic. This can be caused by some form of stress or other factors.
When the fungi becomes parasitic they take more than they give. Sometimes they give nothing.
The reality is that this is a complex balancing act. If the fungi become parasitic then theres an “arms race” where there plant starts defend itself and might defeat and kill the fungus.
Other Fungi & Plant Relationships
Some fungi need plants and can’t exist without them. The condition is obligatory and they are called Symbiotic Obligates. Others can survive without plants, at least for a while. they are referred to as Facultative Symbiants.
Then there are the mixotrophs. Mixotrophs are plants that use the mycorrhiza to connect with other plants purely to parasitise the plants. They use the fungal network as the go between.
Finally, there are the saprophytic fungi. Saprophytic fungi live on dead plants. and don’t require any symbiosis. they are found in leaf litter and on dead branches etc.
For a long time people thought saprophytes infected dead tree branches when the fell to the woodland floor. The science now makes that look wrong as there is evidence that the fungi often enters the branch when it is living and can sit inside it for decades or longer, until it falls to the ground. then it springs into life and devours the dead wood.
The saprophyte living inside living cells is a bit like how the chickenpox virus enters humans and causes chickenpox after which it sits there for decades before causing shingles. It’s a similar strategy developed by both viruses and fungi.
Image Adapted from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:R%C3%A9seau_mycorhizien.svg
Charlotte Roy, Salsero35, Nefronus, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
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