Agaric Folia Mushrooms in the Environment the Importance of Mushrooms

There is a book available from Kew Gardens, “Agaric Folia of the Lesser Antilles” by Pegler and it lists over 400 mushrooms found in the Caribbean. It refers to identification, growth characteristics and where they grow. The book is about 500 pages of small print. Why would anybody put this much effort into studying saprophytes, plants that grow and depend on death? The simple answer, because they are extremely important as the natural recyclers in most ecosystems!

Saprophytes are nature’s recyclers. They are a critical part of what makes the world go round and ecosystems work. They supply a wide and rich range of nutrients required by other plants and animals. These nutrients, without the aid of saprophytes would be removed and depleted from many systems causing them to collapse from “starvation”, the nutrients would all be tied up in the dead plants. Recycling of nutrients keeps the forests and fields alive and functioning.

Many saprophytes are microscopic and so small that they cannot be seen with the naked eye. They are decomposers, which along with insects and snails, aid in recycling valuable nutrients from dead organic material. These nutrients are then released back into the soil to be reabsorbed rapidly by growing plants and trees. Decayed matter produced by saprophytes contains essential nutrients like iron, calcium, potassium and phosphorous all of which are necessary to promote a viable ecosystem.

Saprophytes and a few micro-organisms, such as bacteria and protozoans, are also all that can decompose substances such as cellulose and lignum. Without saprophytes these substances will accumulate and cover the ground, suffocating many small plants. Leaves, grasses and dead branches would sit for years and cover the floor of the forest. Seedlings could not grow as the ones below the accumulation would never get enough light and the ones above would have no soil. The creatures that rely on those plants would then die, causing the collapse of the ecosystem, all because “nature’s recyclers” weren’t present.

Books and studies such as the one mentioned by Dr. Pegler are valuable documents. They indicate the numbers of saprophytes out there, recycling and surviving, and can tell us if these plants start to disappear. Is this important? As shown, it is crucial for the survival of other plants, the ecosystems, and even the world!

If man could only learn to recycle as well!