In the current era of massive species extinction, global warming, top-soil loss and chemical pollutants, now more than ever we need to be aware of how ecosystems actually operate and look for adaptive, regenerative forces. Go to the site of a forest fire one year after the blaze and mushrooms are the first life form to emerge sign of the mycelium at work, decomposing the charred remains and readying the land for new growth. We need to understand their adaptability, for they may provide many real solutions to the environmental problems that are now of paramount importance.
In large part, the new move toward appreciating biodiversity is a step in the right direction because it is a worldview that looks at how creatures are intertwined and at the recurrent cycles within these systems. As one of the three main multicellular branches of life on the planet, its not difficult to conceive of the importance of fungi and how they might influence the other creatures: in fact, they are the most important food source to the insect world, and are crucial to the survival of over 80% of species from the plant kingdom, which is nothing to say of their providing shelter or decomposing waste or attacking with virulent force.
Forces of Change p 225
Today many predictions about the future of Nature and our society warn of the catastrophic changes that may soon engulf us. The issues are complex, and perspectives vary; the impact of human beings on natural systems is without precedent in the history of our planet. We must learn to live on the Earth in ways that are sustainable and can accommodate changes inherent in the natural world. To do this, we will need new approaches to scientific questions, new idea about economic value, and ultimately, new views of nature.
Here is a creature that can learn to biodegrade carbon toxins, such as petrol waste, and has actually been able to feed from it. Theyve already shown their ability to respond to disturbed sites as a first line-of- defense unit. As the environmental shifts take place on a rapidly accelerated scale, scientists need to understand how rapidly organisms can adapt themselves. How many generations does it take for adaptive change to take place?
Fungi can also be terrific allies, providing very real solutions to many of the current problems. They can help us regrow our forests, firstly by inoculating areas with saprophytic fungi to help in the conversion of decayed matter, and then re-introducing mycorrhizal strains to expand the root systems of the newly planted trees and give them protection under the soil. Fungal strains are excellent decomposers and can be harnessed to recycle our waste. Furthermore, new biotechnologies are showing that these organisms can be used instead of many chemicals with a significant decrease in pollution.
The movement towards biotechnology the application of living organisms and their components to industrial processes is very promising both economically and environmentally, and fungal research is leading the way. A few of the many examples include using fungal agents in the production of textile dyes to replace the chemical synthesis which has inherent waste disposal problems; biobleaching and biopulping to replace some of the chemical steps in paper making; biocontrol of insect pests and weeds which decreases the amount of pesticides and fertilizers. These processes have significant effects on human health and ecological maintenance, and provide very real hope for the future.
The global environment is at huge risk right now from a combination of ignorance and recklessness, and we must adapt very, very quickly to respond to these changes. We need a shift in mindset as well as the means to achieve it. As much as the fungal kingdom is a place to consider in this new era, it is also important to see that these forms are not invulnerable either. They too, feel the effects of the changing world and scientists have marked, with extreme concern, the loss of over 40% of the mycorrhizal species in Europe over the last 50 years. Our new view of nature must incorporate this kingdom, safeguarding old growth forests, for they very well may help save us. Consider for a moment the huge effects of penicillin discovery on the progress and health of mankind and then consider that of that scientists have only identified and studied approximately 3% of the estimated diversity of fungal species on the planet!