Soil Fungi

Authored by: R. Greg Thorn

Handbook of Soil Sciences Properties and Processes

Print publication date:  November  2011
Online publication date:  November  2011

Print ISBN: 9781439803059
eBook ISBN: 9781439803066
Adobe ISBN:


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Soil is all of the unconsolidated mineral and organic materials on the ground surface that is differentiated from the parent materials below and the unincorporated and undigested litter above by the biological activities of fungi, bacteria, invertebrates, and other soil organisms. This definition includes the L, F, H, and O organic horizons and the mineral horizons from A to C (Fanning and Balluff, 1989; Bridges, 1997) and could be expanded to include the aerial “soil” that forms on the surfaces of trees that are covered with mosses, lichens, and vascular plant epiphytes in humid regions (Nadkarni et al., 2004; Enloe et al., 2006). The nature of the inorganic parent material and the activities of plants and soil organisms together make a soil what it is. The dominant soil organisms, both in terms of processes and biomass, are the fungi (de Boer et al., 2005; Joergensen and Wichern, 2008). It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of fungi in soil. In many soils, the biomass of fungi exceeds that of all other soil organisms combined (excluding plant roots) by a factor of 10-1. In soil, as elsewhere, the primary and best known role of fungi is the decomposition and mineralization of complex, recalcitrant compounds of plant and animal origins, such as cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, and chitin (Rayner and Boddy, 1988; Schwarze et al., 2004; Boddy et al., 2007). Other major roles of soil fungi include their involvements in beneficial and detrimental symbioses with plant roots. These range from the mutually beneficial mycorrhizae that enable land plants to exist in the face of nutrient and water limitations and other stresses to the plant pathogens that annually cause billions of dollars in losses to world crops (Agrios, 2004; Smith and Read, 2008; Section 24.4). Less well known, but possibly of great importance in the functioning of soil ecosystems, are the many connections made by fungi between virtually all soil organisms, at all trophic levels (Thorn, 1997).

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