CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

The Fungi, 3rd Edition

By Sarah C. Watkinson, Lynne Boddy, & Nicholas Money
2016, Academic Press
ISBN: 978-0-12-382034-1 (paperback; 442 pages)/978-0-12-382035-8 (eBook)
List price: $90.95, print or eBook

Occasionally I get the opportunity to teach a class about general mycology and need to select a book for the students and, occasionally, I get asked for a recommendation for a mycology text from someone wishing to learn more about all sorts of fungi, not just the ones that produce mushrooms. In both circumstances, I have never been able to make a single selection that I was entirely happy with and, for classes, usually wind up cobbling together a collection of individual book chapters and review papers. Will this recent textbook, designed primarily for undergraduate and graduate university students change things? Let’s see. The go-to North American mycology textbook has long been Introductory Mycology by C.J. Alexopoulos, originally published in 1952 and most recently (1996) in its 4th edition, produced after his death by two of Alexopoulos’s former students, Charles Mims and Meredith Blackwell, highly respected mycologists in their own rights. It is focused heavily on describing the fungi and their life cycles in a taxonomic framework. For example, 26 of the 29 chapter titles are based on names for groups of fungi, such as “Phylum Ascomycota, Filamentous Ascomycetes with Apothecia— Discomycetes.” As is typical for older texts, all of the illustrations are in black and white and there are none of the “learning aids,” such as colorful sidebars, that are much a part of the current generation of college texts. If one wants to know what fungi are and gain an appreciation for their different types, this is an excellent place to go. But it is a heavy read, lacks the many interesting findings of the past 20–25 years, and leaves one wanting more if the intent is to understand, and generate excitement for, what fungi are doing in our world. More recent, mostly European, texts have focused more on the functional aspects of fungi, but none has been fully successful in my opinion.

The first edition of The Fungi (1994) was authored by Michael Carlile and Watkinson, and the second edition (2001) by Carlile, Watkinson, and the late Graham Gooday. The change in authors from edition to edition leads to this one being rather different in many respects from the first two, although the main objective has remained to produce a textbook encompassing the whole of mycology from a microbiological perspective. Thus, the 12 chapters cover: 1. Fungal Diversity (NPM, each chapter was written by a single author); 2. Fungal Cell Biology and Development (NPM); 3. Spore Production, Discharge, and Dispersal (NPM); 4. Genetics – Variation, Sexuality, and Evolution (LB); 5. Physiology and Adaptation (SCW); 6. Molecular Ecology (SCW); 7. Mutualistic Symbiosis between Fungi and Autotrophs (SCW); 8. Pathogens of Autotrophs (LB); 9. Interactions with Ecosystems, and Global Change (LB); 12. Fungi and Biotechnology (NPM). A glossary and index follow the main text.

Rather than grouping all the reference citations in one section with the glossary and index, each chapter ends with a list of suggested publications or websites for further reading, most of which (at least in the PDF version I received for review) are hyperlinked to their source (where they might or, more often, might not be freely available).

The design and layout are rather simple, with text running margin to margin in a single wide column, and not wrapping around figures. The figures include both color and black-and-white, and are of varied quality. Most are good but a number are mediocre, usually because they are lacking in sharpness (at least in my PDF version). The images were acquired from many different sources, including previously published journal articles and books, online image compilations, and generous colleagues so, combined with the fact that different chapters were written by different authors, the consistency of style seen in most textbooks is lacking. However, this is mostly an appearance thing and I don’t feel it significantly affects the utility of the book.

For me, the strength of the book comes in presenting a lot of fascinating, current information that highlights the unique nature of fungi and makes their universal importance clear. Some typical topics include mechanisms of spore discharge, forces generated, and velocities achieved (think about it — how easy is it to measure the speed of a spore?); defining what a fungus individual, population, and species are and why the definitions matter; what high-throughput DNA sequencing of environmental samples is suggesting about the number of fungi on Earth; what to do about describing species that are known only from DNA sequences obtained from a soil or other environmental sample; effects of pollution and global change on fungi; and emerging efforts to conserve fungi, especially those thought to be rare or endangered. All of this comes at the expense of describing the many different sorts of fungi (only a single chapter is devoted to taxonomic mycodiversity) so having access to the Alexopoulos et al. text will be desirable for reference or for those who want to go further in that area.

The Fungi contains far too much interesting material to cover in a typical one-term university course, but this would allow for different instructors to customize their courses, emphasizing the aspects they felt were most important. Obviously, however, this would not affect an individual reader. To return to the question posed at the beginning, although I don’t think a perfect mycology textbook can be written, I would not hesitate to use this one in a class or to recommend it to interested individuals. It is up-todate and does a good job of presenting information that is likely to generate an enthusiastic appreciation for the fungi. Inasmuch as it is intended primarily for a university audience, the authors assume a reasonable command of basic biology. However, lack of a recent biology class need not deter one from tackling this book, especially if you are prepared to do a little homework. The price is higher than I would like, but is not out of line in today’s textbook market.

— Review by Steve Trudell
— Originally published in Fungi