Introduction

This chapter considers the role of wood-decay fungi in forest ecosystems in the broadest sense, embracing examples of fungi displaying wood and litter degradative activities, even if only transiently. The aim is to emphasize the fundamental significance and pervasiveness of wood-decay activity as an integral process in ecosystem functioning. I therefore present a coherent text of diverse themes, but not a comprehensive treatise of any. Each individual topic presented offers an overview of material that has formed the basis of many individual and extensive texts. I have therefore been selective, have tried to avoid lists of species and instead attempted to highlight important ecological activities, features, trends, and concepts. In examining the current status of knowledge, I have on occasion restated familiar works, thus providing progression to more recent research. As a result of my own background and interests examples are mostly drawn from the Northern Hemisphere and information regarding, for example, important tropical biomes, has largely been omitted. The chapter aims to identify some general concepts underpinning wood-decay fungal ecology, and provide guided access to pertinent literature where possible. I conclude by identifying neglected arenas of study and speculating on future research trends. After-all, continued investigation concerned with wood-decay fungi and their role in forest ecosystems is an academically challenging and immensely important process in biological, ecological as well as practical terms.

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