Triumph of the Fungi
There are more than 16,000 species of mushrooms. These include species with familiar umbrella-shaped fruit bodies, brackets with gills, spines, and tubes, and others that bear spores on flattened crusts, plus puffballs, earth stars, bird's nest fungi, phallic mushrooms, false truffles, and jelly fungi. Classical taxonomic studies relied upon mushroom shape, spore color, and other visible features of these fungi. This work has been overhauled in light of molecular phylogenetic research, demonstrating that similarities in appearance are a poor reflection of evolutionary relationships. Mushroom colonies determine soil fertility; they rot wood and decompose leaf litter; they clothe and feed the roots of forest trees; they are destructive parasites of plants; they form symbioses with orchids, ants, termites, and other animals, and a few form lichens. In rare cases, mushroom spores take root in an unfortunate person's nose or throat and rot them like a fallen tree.
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