Basic Taxonomy

Domain - Eukarya                                        

Kingdom - Fungi

Phylum - Basidiomycota

Class - Agaricomycetes

Order - Agaricales

Family - Agaricaceae

Genus - Lycoperdon                              

Species - L. pyriforme              photo from tree of life site          


Taxonomic Characteristics

Domain: Eukarya

Organisms in this domain all have a membrane bound nucleus in addition to distinct sub-cellular organelles.

Kingdom: Fungi

More than 70,000 species of fungi have been identified, but some have estimated the true number to be as high as 1.5 million species (Hawksworth et al., 1995).  Perhaps the most distinctive defining characteristic of fungi is its use of chitin as the major structural component of its cell wall.  Additionally, members are nonvascular, store food energy in the form of glycogen and are heterotrophic (that is they rely on consumption of organic material for energy rather than by photosynthesis).  Similar to plants, fungi demonstrate an alternation of generations which simply means that the free-living organisms can exists in either the haploid (n) or diploid (2n) form.   

Since adult fungi are non-motile, they must live in/on their food source in order to take in nutrients.  When depleted, fungi must then reproduce to establish offspring in new nutrient-rich areas.  The use of exoenzymes is also unique to fungi.  Unlike animals, fungi first secrete these enzymes to digest their food, then they ingest it.

*Note that a few fungi may have a motile phase, but none are freely motile for entire lifecycle*


Phylum: Basidiomycota

The basidiomycota compose a large percentage of the fungi with around 30,000 identified species (over a third of all named fungi).  One identifiable feature of this phylum is the unique production of its sexual spores.  Given the name basidiospores, these sexual spores are born externally on club-shaped cells called basidia.  Fungi of this group can (albeit rarely) reproduce asexually.  Upon emergence from spores (germination), the organism may develop into unicellular yeast (typically haploid and non-nucleated) or develop into septate hyphae.

The life cycle of basidiomycota also consists of a long dikaryotic phase.  These cells contain two haploid nuclei which have not yet fused.  This may sound strange to us because this stage is almost nonexistent in humans; human sperm and egg cells fuse nearly instantaneously to form a zygote (2n).


Class: Agaricomycetes

With around 16,000 identified species, the Agaricomeycetes class of basidiomycota is not only the most populous, but also seem to be the most recognized class of fungi.  This is primarily due to the extraordinary diversity of observed reproductive structures, or mushrooms.  Nearly all members exist as flamentous septate hyphae rather than as yeast.  Although primarily wood-decayers, members of this class have been observed to survive in nearly all terrestrial ecosystems as well as a few aquatic ecosystems.


"pseudo" class: Gasteromycetes

The term Gasteromycetes is often used as the class name for L. pyriforme, but it is important to note that this term is not an official taxonomic term.  Rather, it has been applied to certain basidiomycota that portray some common characteristics.  One of which is the maturation of basidia inside of a closed are prior to maturation of the fruiting body (mushroom).  Stated in another way, the sexual basidiospres mature before being introduced to the outside air.  Again, don’t forget that this is not a true class of fungi since members are not closely related to each other.


Order: Agaricales

This monophyletic group of approximately 8500 species represents the largest order of the Agaricomycetes class (Binder et al., 2005).  A typical feature of these fungi is the presence of gill-like structures.  Otherwise, classification of an unknown fungus into this order is dependant upon ruling out key characteristics of other orders.  There is also no typical habitat for this order; they survive in pretty much any terrestrial location.  Many (but not all) Agaricales form associations with plants in the form of mycorhizzae.  These associations benefit both organisms involved, which is known as a mutualistic symbiosis.  


Family: Agaricaeae

This family consists of about 85 genera and 1300 fungal species.  This family contains the now eliminated families of now contains organisms that used to be tolustomataceae, lepiotaceae and lycoperdaceae, the last of which was known as the true-puffball family.  Many fungi in the agaricaceae stuff their spores inside a sandwich of skin layers, thus not allowing access to the outside world during development.  Eventually when the fungus is ready to release its spores, the outer layer rips and spits out a cloud of spores, resembling a *puff*.  


Genus: Lycoperdon

The lycoperdon genus is the first taxonomic group in which the individuals share a common habitat which consists of fields and forests.  They also contain filamentous strings which offer support structure.  This is covered in more detail in the structure page. 


Species: L. pyriforme

Here we have the famous wolf-fart puffball!  This organism is described further in the linked pages.  Many people seem to find the structure of this organism to be especially interesting.

photo from tree of life website






















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