CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Fungal Biodiversity

Edited by Pedro W. Crous, Gerard J.M. Verkley, Johannes Z. Groenewald, & Jos Houbraken
Westerdijk Laboratory Manual Series No. 1; 2019
Westerdijk Fungal Biodiversity Institute, Utrecht, The Netherlands
ISBN: 978-94-91751-16-5
Large format hardcover, 425 pages; €75

According to the publisher’s website, “This Laboratory Manual focuses on techniques for isolation, cultivation, molecular and morphological study of filamentous fungi and yeasts.” However, although billed as a “lab manual,” that term really only applies to portions of the content of this recent offering from The Netherlands. I tend to think of a lab manual as a slender volume used in the laboratory portion of a school class, with specific exercises and stepby- step instructions on how to carry them out along with study questions to direct the students’ thought. Indeed, as the publisher’s description states, this large volume contains much howto information but it also includes a lot more that I would categorize as reference material, resulting in a sort of hybrid book. So I was not surprised to learn that it has been developed as a general text over the past approximately 50 years, based on the annual mycology course given at the Westerdijk Institute.

Chapter 1—Introduction provides a brief introduction to the book, its basic approach (emphasizing the study of axenic [pure] cultures under standardized conditions), an explanation of what fungi are, the authors recommended stepwise procedure for studying fungi, and mention of a number of other publications that provide more in-depth treatments of topics such as the importance of fungi to humans.

Chapter2—The Fungal System, by far the longest in the book, opens with a discussion of the taxonomic hierarchy and four (out of a possible 26 or more) different species concepts, the one-fungus, one-name issue, molecular bar-coding, and a list of mycological texts and journals. The remainder of the chapter provides a systematic summary of the members of Kingdom Fungi, but first starting with the no-longer-fungi, such as the oomycetes (“water molds”), currently assigned to the Kingdom Chromista. These are followed by sections on the groups of “true fungi”: Chytridiomycota, Blastocladiomycota, “Zygomycota,” Zoopagomycota, Mucoromycota, Ascomycota, and Basidiomycota. This descriptive part is profusely illustrated with nicely rendered full-color figures of life-cycles and schematic line-drawings, as well as photographic plates depicting most of the structures essential for the study and identification of these fungi such as sporangiophores, spores, and other microcharacters. Exemplar (“Reference”) taxa for each of the groups, 69 mostly common species in various economically important genera, are described and illustrated in detail in Chapter 12.

Chapter 3—General Methods provides overview, and sometimes detailed, descriptions of a number of basic procedures such as sterile technique, preservation of living cultures, the choice and preparation of media, microscopic examination, the use of stains, and preparation of permanent slides. Although the more detailed descriptions could be of value to a newcomer to the procedures, the more generalized ones would have to be augmented with additional details from other sources.

Chapter 4— Molecular and Phylogenetic Methods contains a mix of general discussion and specific stepwise procedures related primarily to DNA sequencing and phylogenetic analysis of the sequences obtained. Topics such as GenBank, BLAST searches, DNA barcoding, and character matrices, are included and the chapter finishes with a description of protein-based methods. The coverage provides a quite helpful summary for those curious to know how those phylogenetic trees come to be.

Chapter 5—Nomenclature provides a brief, but very useful, summary of the most important rules from the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants such as validly publishing names, establishing types to support those names, and how to determine whether names are legitimate or not. The chapter concludes with a description of MycoBank, an on-line database that serves the mycological and broader scientific communities by documenting new mycological names and combinations and associated data such as descriptions and illustrations.

Most of Chapter 6—Ecological Groups of Fungi focuses on microfungi including those in soil, water, and plants, either as endophytes or pathogens. Most of the discussions include techniques for isolating the fungi and some provide additional study methods. As a forest ecologist with principal interests in macrofungi and mycorrhizas, I was disappointed to see “my groups” given very little attention.

Chapter 7—Applied Mycology briefly covers food-borne fungi, airborne and other indoor fungi, and selected fungi of medical importance. 

Chapter 8—Glossary and Descriptive Terms is just what the title suggests. It provides explanations of many common mycological terms, many of which helpfully include references to illustrations in the book.

Chapter 9— Mycological Media provides recipes for more than 60 media for cultivating fungi.

Chapter 10—References covers about 40 pages and includes perhaps 1500 or more entries.

Chapter 11—Arrangement of the Major Fungal Taxa is a singlepage cladogram based primarily on classes and subphyla and intended to reflect the current understanding of the higher-level evolutionary relationships within the Kingdom Fungi.

Chapter 12— Reference Taxa and the Index conclude the book.

If not clear already, this is not a mushroom book. It is a mycology book, with an emphasis on micro- rather than macrofungi, and working with cultures rather than environmental samples. Of the 69 reference taxa, only Heterobasidion annosum, Schizophyllum commune, and Sistotrema brinkmannii are ones that might be encountered in a mushroom guide. But that’s not to say mushroom people should ignore it.

Given the book’s unique nature, it is difficult to decide who the target users within or beyond the mycology community might be. Although probably not a replacement for a general mycology textbook, it could serve a similar purpose for those who want a sense of how mycology is done, along with the information about the fungi themselves. Chapters 2 through 5 would be particularly good in this regard. The volume provides a good introduction to systematic mycology, the price is reasonable, it is well produced, and there is a lot of useful information in it for anyone with an interest in fungi. I recommend it even for those not likely to venture into a lab any time soon.

— Review by Steve Trudell
— Originally published in Fungi