Mushrooming for a good cause
- Mushrooms thrive at Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park but there has been little effort to study or document their diversity
- Fungi, including mushrooms, do a quiet job of regulating the delicate microbiome of forests
In the cycle of life, death is but the beginning, as all things that live must end and feed the earth to nourish newer life forms. No other organism is a better ecological decomposer than fungi, which works in tandem with bacteria in any ecosystem.
This fascinating and little explored or understood group of organisms—primarily composed of threadlike filaments called hyphae—is generally invisible to the naked eye. But they can be spotted on dead or decaying organic matter in tropical forests (especially in the monsoon) when their diversity is at a peak.
Science textbooks term them “saprophytes", i.e. they derive nourishment from dead living matter, in turn enriching the soil and facilitating growth.
Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungi, which spread through its spores. Mycologists—scientists who study fungi—say we know very little about them, with some speculating that Earth may be home to over a million species of fungi.
Fungi, including mushrooms, do a quiet job of regulating the delicate microbiome of forests. When roots of trees partner with certain fungi, it accelerates the rate of carbon dioxide absorption. This type of root fungi, called ectomycorrhizal fungi, also locks carbon dioxide in soil, helping to slow the pace of climate change by preventing the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
In Mumbai, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) offers a glimpse of the diversity. There is, however, no baseline study of the types of fungi found in the park. Their contribution to biodiversity remains unrecorded, with virtually no effort being made for their protection.
The encroachment threat to the SGNP will also lead to the degradation of mushroom flora. Awareness is one way of combating this. The mushroom-focused walks and trails held weekly at the SGNP are just a first step.
Mushrooms in a forest ecosystem
— Make the soil porous
— Facilitate water percolation
— Increase the soil’s water-retention capacity — Act upon complex, hard-to-decompose compounds like lignin (in wood cellulose) and break them down into simple, smaller forms.
Shardul Bajikar is a naturalist who studies plant-animal interactions
For details on walks, visit Facebook.com/pg/SanjayGandhiNationalPark/events/
FIRST PUBLISHED04.10.2019 | 04:49 PM IST