(from Greek μύκης (mykes, mukos) “fungus” and Latin (toxicum) “poison”) a toxic secondary metabolite produced by organisms of the fungi kingdom, commonly known as moulds. The term ‘mycotoxin’ is usually reserved for the toxic chemical products produced by fungi that readily colonise crops. One mould species may produce many different mycotoxins, and the same mycotoxin may be produced by several species.

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Pineapple Decomposing (Time Lapse)

At some point, if left to the elements, everything that was once alive succumbs to decomposition. It’s part of the carbon cycle and the recycling of organic nutrients and energy.

Organisms that break down organic tissue cells are called decomposers or  saprotrophs. Decomposers can include things such as fungi (mould), mini-beasts (worms!) and bacteria. 

“Bacteria are important decomposers; they are widely distributed and can break down just about any type of organic matter. A gram of soil typically contains 40 million bacterial cells, and the bacteria on Earth form a biomass that exceeds that of all living plants and animals. Bacteria are vital in the recycling of nutrients, and many steps in nutrient cycles depend on these organisms.”*

Fungi are the primary decomposers in many ecosystems, and many are very specialised in what they break down (such as certain fungi that have evolved to break down lignin in wood).

Invertebrates and also vertebrates that break down organic matter by consuming it are called detritivores. Detritivores eat organic matter, including other already-dead animals, plants and poop, and chemically break down nutrients through digestion. They then expel the nutrients (in their own poop) to make them easier to consume by other organisms.

Altogether, decomposition is a great thing! In the GIF above you can see fungi (mould) spreading over a pineapple and tiny invertebrates slowly breaking it down over time. As the most valuable, accessible and nutritious parts are broken down first, the pineapple collapses in on itself, leaving the parts behind that are harder to digest and least nutritious.