What is the purpose of 'Mushrooms'?

Thank you all for the information. As I feared, I probably need to delve more deeply into fungal biology to get a better understanding of how that life form works. It’s quite foreign to me. But I do have a better understanding about what the function of a ‘mushroom’ is!
@dianastuder There are entire books written on how to eat roadkill, so knock yourself out!

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Not on my menu - I am vegetarian.


Some fungi are considered coprophilic, as they’re so well spread by feces! Although as I mentioned earlier, it’s blurry. Someone else mentioned the advantages of rain protection on the hymenium. These shapes occur in both arid and humid environments, so I personally don’t see that as as much of a reason for the shape as say, wind, which occurs regularly in all environments. Although absolutely, for some mushrooms, that shape does provide that benefit.

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Wasn’t there an iNat blog post recently showing bird’s nest fungi using rainwater to disperse spores?

[Addendum: Found it! https://www.inaturalist.org/blog/64259-it-s-not-really-a-nest-and-those-aren-t-eggs-observation-of-the-week-4-19-22 , there’s a link to a paper with a video clip]


Focusing on basidiomycetes (typical mushrooms)…Some mycelium remain haploid (the analogy would be a sperm dividing and becoming a multicellular being). Sometimes, the cells of two genetically different mycelium fuse and start dividing. These mycelium contain DNA from two different individuals (plasmogamy; but the two nuclei remain separate inside each cell). After a while, some cells of those mycelium form the “mushroom” structure, in which certain cells undergo karyogamy where the nuclei of the two different mycelium finally fuse. Those cells then undergo meiosis to make the spores. Here’s a diagram.

They do all the same things that humans do within our life cycle, just a bit differently. For example, we are the equivalent to their basidium stage (we have two sets of chromosomes inside a nucleus). Some of our cells undergo meiosis which separates the pairs of chromosomes into cells with only one set of chromosomes–except those cells become sperm and ova instead of spores. Spores don’t fertilize like gametes do; instead, they develop into multicellular bodies with only one set of chromosomes. The fungal plasmogamy is like our fertilization–except drawn out over a longer period of time. For example, when a sperm fertilizes an ova, it takes a while for the two nuclei to combine (for mammals, it takes ~12 hours for the nucleus of the sperm to fuse with the nucleus of the ova; a lot of folks think that fertilization is an instantaneous process, but it’s not). With fungi, the nuclei do eventually combine, but not until after the dual mycelium grows and forms a “mushroom”–which could be many days (maybe even months or years–I’m not sure).

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Interesting. I guess I thought because they both make big fruiting bodies that they had more similar life cycles. It would be neat to know why they do it differently.

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Maybe they diverged before they were creating big fruiting bodies, so both lineages came to create them on their own?

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A simplified answer might be that since most eat wood, sending spores to the wind helps them find food. I suppose it’s the same with dispersion through feces.


The difference between ascomycetes and basidiomycetes is really just in terms of scale and shape of parts–they’re both doing the same thing. With ascomycetes, the dikaryotic (double nucleus) cells are restricted to a small collection of hyphae shaped like a cup where the fusion of the nuclei (analogous to fertilization) occurs. In basidiomycetes, the dikaryotic hyphae form a more loose network and then later form the mushroom where the fusion occurs.

There doesn’t have to be a particular reason that different organisms accomplish the same goals in slightly different ways beyond random mutations happening upon two different ways that work about equally well in two different lineages. Less interesting, I know!

But those are just two types of fungi–there are many more. And some of them have flagellated spores that are more like the gametes of animals (the fungi’s closest relatives). It’s thought that the flagellated gametes was the ancestral condition (shared with animals) but was lost 1-3 times within the fungal lineage.

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Here are some beautiful videos showing that mushroom spores don’t drop to the ground. They are wafted into the air and can travel relatively great distances.



And a research article describing the process:
Quote from the article:
“Mushroom spore dispersal is usually described as a two-phase process: active ejection of spores clear of the gill surface by surface tension catapults, followed by a passive phase in which the spores are carried by whatever winds are present beneath the mushroom cap. Here, we show that control extends into the second phase of dispersal: water vapor loss creates slow airflows that carry spores out from under the mushroom cap and potentially tens of centimeters into the air. In addition to clarifying why mushrooms have such high water needs, and providing a mechanism by which spore dispersal can occur even in a low-wind environment, our work shows that the physics of apparently passive dispersal may be under organismal control.”

I have to admit, I originally thought your question was boring. But I really got caught up in how cool mushroom dispersal really is!

Some more info here on the diversity of spore dispersal in fungi:
Quote from article:
“These micro-breezes may pick up the spore and carry it higher into the air and away from the parent mushroom. The spore may come to rest a metre or a kilometre or even further away from the mushroom. It may come to rest on a grass blade, be eaten by a kangaroo that then moves away a few more kilometres and deposits it in a dropping”.


Yes, and others like some chitrids have alternation of generations with sporophytes and gametophytes like plants. Fungal life cycles are weird and don’t fit one common mold (hah, sorry for the lame pun).


I just started this book:

" Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures" by Merlin Sheldrake

Unfortunately, you have to sift through “mushroom” books and groups. Some are about collecting. Some are about cooking.

Another good thing to read is the introductory sections of field guides. They often have a lot on fungi, in general.

And, you MUST watch this video by Stephen Axford and do some research into him. It is just fantastic stuff.


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I am not sure how to answer your question but I can refer you to one of the great experts.

He started a company called;

Host Defense MUSHROOM

His name is Paul Stamets.

He has fascinating YouTube videos.


Good luck!



I will check out your mushroom link…

Here’s another brilliant mushroom person


Paul Stamets

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Welcome to the Forum!
Thank you for the names and the links. Does Paul Stamets ever sleep? There was a lot of information to unpack in that TED talk!

The realm of fungal ecology in a large herbivore saturated Savannah is for me, very interesting

Some animals such as Elephant, Rhinos, and even some breeds of cattle act as optimal macronutrient repositories for certain species of fungi that, without being able to branch through that animals poop, would otherwise be unable to produce fruiting bodies. The spores from the mushrooms in the poop don’t travel very far compared to others (not that I know anyway), but they don’t have to, for as long as there are large perambling beasties around that will inevitably answer natures call, even a single spore or 2 can suffice to metasticize a complete mycellium network through the fecal matter. Hindgut fermenters such as Rhinos, play an especially important role in this.



In Australia, medium-sized marsupials, particularly potoroos and other members of the Potoroidae, are important dispersers of fungal spores by eating them. They’re thought to be important for the health of the forests. I don’t know how many of these can be accessed but here are some links to papers talking abou this.



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