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Portal:Fungi

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Fungi

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A fungus is any member of a large group of eukaryotic organisms that includes microorganisms such as yeasts and molds, as well as the more familiar mushrooms. The Fungi are classified as a kingdom that is separate from plants and animals. The discipline of biology devoted to the study of fungi is known as mycology, which is often regarded as a branch of botany, even though genetic studies have shown that fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants. Fungi reproduce via spores, which are often produced on specialized structures or in fruiting bodies, such as the head of a mushroom. Abundant worldwide, most fungi are inconspicuous to the naked eye because of the small size of their structures, and their cryptic lifestyles in soil, on dead matter, and as symbionts of plants, animals, or other fungi. Fungi perform an essential role in the decomposition of organic matter and have fundamental roles in nutrient cycling and exchange. They have long been used as a direct source of food, such as mushrooms and truffles, as a leavening agent for bread, and in fermentation of various food products, such as wine, beer, and soy sauce. Since the 1940s, fungi have been used for the production of antibiotics, and, more recently, various enzymes produced by fungi are used industrially and in detergents. Fungi are also used as biological agents to control weeds and pests. Many species produce bioactive compounds called mycotoxins, such as alkaloids and polyketides, that are toxic to animals including humans. The fruiting structures of a few species are consumed recreationally or in traditional ceremonies as a source of psychotropic compounds. Fungi can break down manufactured materials and buildings, and become significant pathogens of humans and other animals. Losses of crops due to fungal diseases or food spoilage can have a large impact on human food supplies and local economies. Despite their importance on human affairs, little is known of the true biodiversity of Kingdom Fungi, which has been estimated at around 1.5 million species, with about 5% of these having been formally classified.

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Rhodotus palmatus, the only known Rhodotus species
Rhodotus is a genus in the Physalacriaceae family of fungi. It is a monotypic genus and consists of the single mushroom species Rhodotus palmatus, known in the vernacular as the netted Rhodotus, the rosy veincap, or the wrinkled peach. This uncommon species has a circumboreal distribution, and has been collected in eastern North America, northern Africa, Europe, and Asia; declining populations in Europe have led to its appearance in over half of the European fungal Red Lists of threatened species. Typically found growing on the stumps and logs of rotting hardwoods, mature specimens may usually be identified by the pinkish color and the distinctive ridged and veined surface of their rubbery caps; variations in the color and quantity of light received during development lead to variations in the size, shape, and cap color of fruit bodies.

The unique characteristics of R. palmatus have made it difficult for taxonomists to agree on how it should be classified, resulting in an elaborate taxonomical history and an extensive synonymy. First named Agaricus palmatus by Bulliard in 1785, it was reclassified into several different genera before becoming Rhodotus in 1926. The familial placement of the genus Rhodotus within the order Agaricales has also been subject to dispute, and the taxon has been transferred variously to the families Amanitaceae, Entolomataceae, and Tricholomataceae. More recently, molecular phylogenetics analysis has helped determine that Rhodotus is most closely related to genera in the Physalacriaceae.

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Mycena galopus 68060.jpg
Mycena galopus, commonly known as the milking bonnet or the milk-drop Mycena, is an inedible species of fungus in the Mycenaceae family of the Agaricales order. It produces small mushrooms that have grayish-brown, bell-shaped, radially-grooved caps up to 2.5 cm (1.0 in) wide. The gills are whitish to gray, widely spaced, and squarely attached to the stem. The slender stems are up to 8 cm (3.1 in) long, and pale gray at the top, becoming almost black at the hairy base. The stem will ooze a whitish latex if it is injured or broken. The variety nigra has a dark gray cap, while the variety candida is white. All varieties of the mushroom occur during summer and autumn on leaf litter in coniferous and deciduous woodland.

Mycena galopus is found in North America and Europe. The saprobic fungus is an important leaf litter decomposer, and able to utilize all the major constituents of plant litter. It is especially adept at attacking cellulose and lignin, the latter of which is the second most abundant renewable organic compound in the biosphere. The mushroom latex contains chemicals called benzoxepines, which are thought to play a role in a wound-activated chemical defense mechanism against yeasts and parasitic fungi.

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Credit: Jason Hollinger
The lichen Xanthoria elegans growing on exposed sandstone.

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