- What role do fungi have in an ecosystem?
- Why are fungi important in an ecosystem?
- Does increased biodiversity benefit an ecosystem?
- Does the biodiversity of fungi affect the overall biodiversity of an ecosystem?
The Kingdom Fungi contains heterotrophic organisms that digest their food before ingesting it by excreting enzymes. Because of their method of feeding, fungi are important in causing decay and decomposition, thus cycling nutrients through then ecosystem. Fungi are still not completely understood, but their importance to both ecosystems and humans is well known. In this experiment, the student will count the number of individual fungal reproductive structures to estimate the biodiversity of the fungi in three separate ecosystems. The biodiversity of the fungi can help understand the relative health and complexity of the ecosystem itself.
- Field guide for identifying fungi and mushrooms in your region
- Pen or pencil
- Meter tape or stick
- Plastic flagging tape
- Digital camera (optional)
- Choose three local ecosystems to compare. Examples include a nearby field, forest, park or lawn. Create your hypothesis as to which ecosystem you believe will have the most variety and number of fungi, including mushrooms, shelf fungi, lichen, and jellies. Why do you think this ecosystem will have the greatest biodiversity of fungi?
- A day after a good rain, go to each ecosystem chosen and conduct your study. You must conduct the studies on the same day for your data to be most valid. Choose an area at each location that is 10m x10m square. Use your meter tape or stick to map out the area and mark it with flagging tape. Within the square, search systematically for signs of fungi. Identify each species found with your field guide. Write down the species and number found in a data table in your notebook. Do not destroy or consume any fungi found. When you are finished, return the ecosystem to its original state. Repeat the process at the other two locations. You may want to take pictures of the process for your project display.
- Younger students may display their results in two bar graphs, for the number and species of fungi. Older students may use the Simpson’s Biodiversity Index to determine the biodiversity of the fungi community and graph the results of the biodiversity index. Compare your results to your hypothesis to draw conclusions about the most diverse fungi community and how that may relate to the overall health of each ecosystem.
- Simpson’s Index for Biodiversity (D) is calculated as: D = sum ni(ni-1)/N(N-1) where N = total number of organisms in the survey and ni = the number of individuals for each species. So for example, if you count three different types of fungi at one location, 10 of type 1, 5 of type 2, and 2 of type three, your equation would look like:
10(10-1) + 5(5-1) + 2(2-1) / 17(17-1) = 112/2032 = 0.055
- This diversity index value would be considered more diverse than a value of 0.25 but less diverse than a value of 0.025.
Terms/Concepts: Mycology; Fungi; Decomposition; Nutrient cycling; Biodiversity; Fungi reproduction; Fungi life cycle; Types of fungi; Mycellium; Hyphae; Club fungi; Sac fungi; Lichen