Book Review

Fungi in Biogeochemical Cycles

Edited by Geoffrey M. Gadd
2006, British Mycological Society
ISBN 978-0-521-84579-3
$229.00 / hardback /469 pages)
Cambridge University Press

The British Mycological Society (BMS) often sponsors a symposium on a single broad mycological topic in conjunction with its annual meeting. As such, these typically represent the focus of the whole meeting, unlike the practice of the Mycological Society of America where the annual meeting usually includes a large number of smaller sessions on a variety of topics. This and the similar volume reviewed below present the results of two such BMS symposia and are of high interest because they provide information on aspects of mycology we don’t often hear about, despite the fact that they are of great importance to all of us, whether we are aware of it or not.

Biogeochemistry is the field of science that deals with the chemical interactions that take place among organisms and the physical components of their environment, and the causes and consequences of those interactions, which profoundly influence all life. Carbon and nutrient cycling, organic matter decomposition, soil formation, and water movement are examples of the processes that are studied. The biogeochemical activities of bacteria have received much attention from researchers, however, all too often, biogeochemists ignore the fungi and the crucial roles they play in these processes. For instance, fungi are often associated with decomposition, but less appreciated are symbiotic fungi, such as those in mycorrhizas, which are associated with the vast majority of plant species and have an enormous influence on plant growth and nutrient cycling. Similarly neglected are lichens, which play important roles as early colonizers of bare rock surfaces, where they break down rock and mineral components and set the stage for development of soils. Biogeochemical activities of fungi also are relevant to bioremediation of pollution, but also to the biodeterioration of many of our building materials such as wood, stone, and cement.

This volume contains 18 contributions from a total of 42 authors representing 9 countries. The chapter titles reflect the diversity of topics covered—Geomicrobiology: relative roles of bacteria and fungi as geomicrobial agents; Integrated nutrient cycles in boreal forest ecosystems—the role of mycorrhizal fungi; Fungal roles in transport processes in soils; Water dynamics of mycorrhizas in arid soils; Integrating ectomycorrhizal fungi into quantitative frameworks of forest carbon and nitrogen cycling; Role of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi in carbon and nutrient cycling in grassland; The role of wood decay fungi in the carbon and nitrogen dynamics of the forest floor; Relative roles of bacteria and fungi in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon biodegradation and bioremediation of contaminated soils; Biodegradation and biodeterioration of man-made polymeric materials; Fungal dissolution and transformation of minerals: significance for nutrient and metal mobility; Fungal activities in subaerial rock-inhabiting microbial communities; The oxalate-carbonate pathway in soil carbon storage: the role of fungi and oxalotrophic bacteria; Mineral tunneling by fungi; Mineral dissolution by ectomycorrhizal fungi; Lichen biogeochemistry; Fungi in subterranean environments; The role of fungi in carbon and nitrogen cycles in freshwater systems; and Biogeochemical roles of fungi in marine and estuarine habitats. Whew ...

Typical for a multi-author volume, the chapters vary in terms of writing quality and clarity of presentation. Each is followed by an extensive list of references. In most, the text is supported by tables, charts, illustrations, and photographs (all in black and white), but it is not an image-dominated work by any means. And, as would be expected of a volume produced by professional scientists, the more mycology and basic science (chemistry, biology, etc.) you know, the more you’ll get out of it, but one need not be a professional scientist to benefit. Nonetheless, this is probably more than the typical mushroom hunter is likely to want to tackle and perhaps would best be used as the basis for a discussion-based university seminar (although few students are likely to be able to afford it). Or better yet, perhaps the contents could be rendered as a series of articles suited for a more general audience.

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