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Cave Fungi


Image: a fungus on wood inside a cave.
Image: fungus growth on wood inside a cave.

Cave Fungi is probably a wrong term. Fungi grow everywhere, and they do not need light. They grow in the top soil and they grow in cave clay, especially if there is a piece of wood. So as a result cave fungi are not fungi adapted to caves, but simply normal fungi, at least several species, where caves are a general part of their habitat.

Fungi are growing as a mycel, they do not need sunlight for this, just enough rotting plants. When two mycels meet, they form the parts we generally know as fungi, we collect and cook. They contain spores and are simple for reproduction.

As caves are close to the natural habitat of fungi, althogh there is generally not enough food for them, it is easy to grow fungi inside caves, by just providing the food. During the 20th century hundreds or even thousands of caves were used to grow fungi, typically champignons (Agaricus). But unfortunately they are very delicate and so many mushroom farms had to close because they were contaminated by bacteria, other fungi or another champignon disease.

Probably the most famous cave fungus originates from a cave in the little French town Roquefort. There is a limeston cave, a karst cave above the village in the cliff. Long time ago a sheperd left his food in the cave while he was herding his sheep. The food was a pice of cheese and a loaf of bread packed in a cloth. It is not clear what happened exactly, but it seems he forgot his food in the cave, which was generally not a big problem, as the cool cave air and the high carbon dioxide in the air preserved the food like a refridgerator. But when he came back, the food was covered by a green blue fungus. He thought about throwing it away, but food was expensive and he was poor, so he tried to eat it. He was very astonished as he learned that the cheese, a fresh cheese which before tasted boringly, was now much better with a special taste. The bread was not very good with the fungus, but he had the idea to seed the next load of chees with crums of the moldy bread.

But fungi can also cause damages in caves. Unfortunately many cavey with prehistoric paintings have the problem of fungi invading the paintings. In the sixties the caves of Lascaux and Altamira were closed to protect the paintings. Too many visitors caused the growth of green algae and other damage. The number of visitors was drastically reduced, the caves were more or less locked, except for some scientists. This stopped the problems for a while, but now black spots have been discovered on the painings (JUL-2007) and were identified as fungi. Two fungi, ulocladium and gliomastix, grow on a layer of existing bacteria.


See also


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