Chapter 16 : The Geomycology of Elemental Cycling and Transformations in the Environment

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The significance of fungi in natural environments is extensive and profound. Their most obvious roles are as decomposers of organic materials and as animal and plant pathogens and symbionts. It is therefore obvious that they are of major importance in the global carbon cycle through such activities and as important determinants of plant growth and productivity. However, their importance in terms of nutrient and element cycling greatly extends beyond these core activities, and they are involved in the biogeochemical cycling of many other elements and substances, as well as many other related processes of environmental significance. The growing discipline of geomicrobiology addresses the roles of microorganisms in geological and geochemical processes ( ), and geomycology can be considered to be a part of this topic that focuses on the fungi ( ). The often clear demarcation between mycological and bacteriological research has ensured that the geoactive properties and significance of fungi have been unappreciated in wider geomicrobiological contexts. The range of prokaryotic metabolic diversity found in archaea and bacteria, including their abilities to use a variety of different terminal electron acceptors in respiration and effect redox transformations of many metal species ( ), has also contributed to a narrow overall view of the significance of eukaryotic organisms in important biosphere processes. A recent collection of geomicrobiology review articles managed to completely exclude fungi (as well as algae), even to the extent of defining “microbes” as being only bacteria and archaea ( ). Nevertheless, appreciation of fungi as agents of geochemical change is growing, and their significance is being discovered even in locations not usually regarded as prime fungal habitats, e.g., rocks, acid mine drainage, deep aquatic sediments, hydrothermal vents, and the igneous oceanic crust ( ). Their significance as bioweathering agents of rocks and minerals is probably better understood than bacterial roles ( ), and this ability is of prime importance in the weathering of human structures in the built environment and cultural heritage ( ). On the positive side, the geoactive properties of fungi can be used for human benefit, and several aspects may contribute to providing solutions to several important global challenges. Geomycology is relevant to reclamation and revegetation of polluted habitats, bioremediation, nuclear decommissioning and radionuclide containment, biorecovery of important elements, and the production of novel biomaterials. This chapter outlines important geoactive properties of fungi in relation to important environmental processes, their positive and negative applications, and their impact on human society.

Citation: Gadd G. 2017. The Geomycology of Elemental Cycling and Transformations in the Environment, p 371-386. In Heitman J, Howlett B, Crous P, Stukenbrock E, James T, Gow N (ed), The Fungal Kingdom. ASM Press, Washington, DC. doi: 10.1128/microbiolspec.FUNK-0010-2016
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