The tundra is a biome, or a major type of ecological community, characterized by arctic conditions and a relative lack of vegetation. Many varieties of fungi can thrive in this type of environment, since they survive by decomposing organic remains and can grow in the absence of sunlight. Mushrooms, lichens and other fungi varieties are abundant in Alaskan and Russian forests and other arctic locations.
Cup, or sac, fungi come in a variety of colors, from bright yellow-orange to a dull, unappealing brown. Though these types of fungi are among the most prominent orders found in the tundra, their value is not yet known. They grow on wood debris, but may or may not contribute to decomposition.
Club fungi, so named for their club-shaped, spore-producing shells, include groups such as jelly, pored, coral, puffball and gilled fungi. Brightly colored jelly fungi have the appearance of sea anemone, and the texture of soft, wet skin. Pored fungi, also known as bracket or shelf fungi, have an often woody, sometimes fleshy texture and grow like shelves out of the sides of trees. They play a significant role in tree decomposition, and some varieties may be eaten or used as medicine. Coral fungi and puffball fungi, true to their names, appear just like aquatic coral or puffballs. Some varieties in this group are mildly poisonous, and neither group is commonly eaten. Gilled fungi, or mushrooms, are often edible, but extreme care must be taken when selecting a wild mushroom to eat; some are deadly poisonous.
Lichens, an association between algae and fungi, are commonly found on wood in various decomposition stages. These fungi/algae hybrids appear as a textured blue-green mass covering logs and tree trunks. Lichens may play a role in the wood decomposition process, but there is no documented evidence to support this belief.
- mountainside tundra image by Dave from Fotolia.com