Book Review

The Fungal Community:
Its Organization and Role in the Ecosystem
3rd Edition

Edited by John Dighton, James F. White, and Peter Oudemans
2005 / 936 pp.
ISBN 978-0-8247-2355-2
$159.95 (hardcover)

Like its predecessors, this third edition of The Fungal Community is a hefty wide-ranging compendium of information about fungus ecology, but now with a new set of editors. The Rutgers University team of Dighton, White, and Oudemans has taken over for Donald Wicklow and George Carroll, who ably produced editions 1 (1981) and 2 (1992). While the second edition certainly was more than a simple updating of the first—32 of its 44 chapters represented new contributions and only 20% of the authors were repeaters—the third edition has almost no connection to the earlier ones, other than sharing the title and general subject matter. The 44 chapters are all new and, of their 82 authors, remarkably only three contributed to the second edition. There is a greater emphasis on the areas the editors know best, such as mycorrhizas, a focus on newly developed tools for studying fungus ecology, and a much greater geographic diversity in the authorship, with 38 of the contributors coming from outside North America compared to 14 in the previous edition. Major themes include the importance of scale, what a fungus community is, how fungus communities are identified and characterized, function in fungus communities, interactions of fungi with other organisms, human impacts on fungi, biodiversity, and conservation. These are discussed and chapters previewed in a general introduction.

The chapters are distributed among four sections—Structure of Fungal Communities (13 chapters), Function of Fungal Communities (17 chapters), Human Impacts on Fungal Communities and Their Function (13 chapters), and Preserving Fungal Communities (1 chapter). Although perhaps not an imaginative approach, a listing of the chapter titles seems the best way to convey a sense of what this book is about. So here you have it:

Section 1. Linking function between scales of resolution; Fungal communities: their diversity and distribution; Freshwater fungal communities; Marine fungal communities; Tropical fungi; Lichens and microfungi in biological soil crusts: community structure, physiology, and ecological functions; Mycorrhizal fungi in successional environments: a community assembly model incorporating host plant, environmental, and biotic filters; Fungal communities: relation to resource succession; Emerging perspectives on the ecological roles of endophytic fungi in tropical plants; Classical methods and modern analysis for studying fungal diversity; Fungal diversity in molecular terms: profiling, identification, and quantification in the environment; Analytical and experimental methods for estimating population genetic structure of fungi; Interspecific interaction terminology: from mycology to general ecology.

Section 2. Fungal activity as determined by microscale methods with special emphasis on interactions with heavy metals; Exploring fungal activity with confocal and multiphoton microscopy; Enzymatic activities of mycelia in mycorrhizal fungal communities; Fungal enzymes at the community scale; Using isotopic tracers to follow carbon and nitrogen cycling of fungi; Diversity–functioning relationships in ectomycorrhizal fungal communities; Fungi, bacteria, and viruses as pathogens of the fungal community; Fungal endophytes in terrestrial communities and ecosystems; Mechanisms of arbuscular mycorrhizal mediation of plant–plant interactions; Impacts of plant pathogenic fungi on plant communities; The Epichloë endophytes of grasses and the symbiotic continuum; Evolutionary development of the Clavicipitaceae; Ecological fitness factors for fungi within the Balansieae and Clavicipiteae; Fungal communities of seaweeds; Trophic interactions of fungi and animals; Sporocarp mycophagy: nutritional, behavioral, evolutionary, and physiological aspects; Hypogeous fungi: evolution of reproductive and dispersal strategies through interactions with animals and mycorrhizal plants.

Section 3. Human impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services: an overview; Oligotrophic growth of fungi; Fungal communities of desert ecosystems: links to climate change; Symbiotic lifestyle expression by fungal endophytes and the adaptation of plants to stress: unraveling the complexities of intimacy; Biological soil crusts and global changes: what does the future hold? Nutrient acquisition strategies of fungi and their relation to elevated atmospheric CO2; Toxic metals and fungal communities; Radionuclides and fungal communities; How do composition, structure, and function of mycorrhizal fungal communities respond to nitrogen deposition and ozone exposure? Micromycete associations in the rhizosphere of steppe and agrophytocenose plants; Fungal communities of agroecosystems; Effects of forest management on fungal communities; Exotic species and fungi: interactions with fungal, plant, and animal communities.

Section 4. Fungal conservation: some impressions—a personal view.

The papers are formatted in a standard fashion, but seem to have not been subjected to heavy editing. Thus, some of the presentations are better than others. They are sparsely illustrated with photographs, charts, and diagrams, predominantly in black and white. A mere five of them are reproduced in color in a separate section. Each chapter concludes with an extensive list of references and these will prove invaluable for accessing the huge and expanding literature on fungus ecology.

The book is not cheap, but the price is more reasonable than that of the second edition—and you get quite a few pages per dollar. Given the range of topics presented, it is unlikely that all 44 chapters will be of intense interest to any one person. However, it is quite likely that there is something in here for nearly everyone. So just where you fall in that spectrum will determine whether you should consider buying a personal copy or rely on a library.

— Review by Steve Trudell, Seattle, WA
— Originally published in Fungi