Macrofungi are those fungi that form large fructifications visible without the aid of a microscope. This artificial but convenient grouping is here defined to include fungal families or genera where the majority of included species produce fruit bodies greater than 1 cm in diameter. Unlike microfungi, which are made conspicuous by the diseases, decay, and moulding they cause, macrofungi are the ones most likely to be directly observed unaided and by the untrained eye. They are also the most likely either to be indicator or threatened beneficial species. The number of species of macrofungi of British Columbia may well exceed the number of species of vascular plants, but, with a few spectacular exceptions, they are largely inconspicuous or are lumped together in the public's mind as mushrooms, toadstools, conks, puffballs, etc., if differentiated even this far. The loss of any one, again with a few exceptions (e.g., chanterelles or pine mushrooms), would not be viewed with alarm by the populace. In fact, a few are either aggressive plant pathogens or agents of destruction of wood structures, and their eradication or control, like that of weeds, may well be a legitimate goal.
However, macrofungi are extremely important beneficial organisms in British Columbia for several reasons. Excepting tree species in the Cupressaceae ( Chamaecyparis, Calocedrus, Thuja) and Aceraceae (Acer) families, all major timber trees and many ornamentals are symbiotically dependent on ectomycorrhizal fungi, most of which are macrofungi. Elimination of these fungi or a substantial drop in their numbers will lead to loss or deterioration of the trees, have a serious effect on the timber industry, and lead to loss of innumerable wilderness habitats.
Macrofungi, such as morels (Morchella), false morels (Gyromitra esculenta), pine mushrooms (Tricholoma magnivelare), chanterelles (Cantharellus spp.), and king boletes (Boletus edulis) are now commercially harvested directly from natural habitats, supporting a multimillion-dollar industry.
Aside from the financial benefits of human consumption, mushrooms form a part of the diet for native animals, such as squirrels, voles, and deer. Truffle-like fungi, although very poorly documented from British Columbia, are obligately dependent on animal ingestion and dispersal; even as some of these animals are largely dependent on the fungi as food. Others, through causing wood decay, create essential habitats for a variety of animals either by causing cavitation of trees or logs, or preparing the wood for colonization by insects and, indirectly, by larger animals.
Macrofungi, although by definition visible to the naked eye, are, like all fungi, microorganisms. They interact and compete with all manner of other microorganisms and predators or browsers. Genetically, they generate masses of pharmaceutically active chemicals, such as antibiotics, anti-carcinogens, hormones, pheromones, toxins, carcinogens, enzymes, and pigments. Each species presents a unique combination of these features and therefore represents potential benefits.
Fungi (mostly macrofungi) decompose plant matter, particularly woody tissues. They are necessary for the recycling of both natural and industrial forest waste and dead wood. As a by-product of this ability to degrade complex polymers (lignin and cellulose), some fungi are capable of being used to decontaminate soil or groundwater of some types of pollutants.
Aesthetically, some macrofungi are among the most picturesque, colourful, and delicate formations in nature. A profusion of large mushrooms, coral fungi, and bracket fungi along a woodland trail can turn an area into a wilderness wonderland, worth preserving for the sake of its beauty.
Keywords: Mushrooms, Fungi, Wilderness, Biodiversity, Endangered Species, British Columbia.
Download Working Paper 28 PDF file (1061 KB)
To view this document you need the current version of
Adobe Acrobat Reader, available free from the
Adobe Web Site.
Updated November 04, 2009