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Difference Between Fungi And Lichens

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Fungi and Lichens

Our natural ecosystem is made up of countless organisms. Some of them are also invisible to the naked eye. The flora and fauna of an ecosystem are so diverse that it incorporates billions of organisms that are part of an ecosystem and participate in it. A circular flow of nutrients takes place constantly in nature and all these organisms are critical for each other’s survival. An ecosystem comprises of autotrophs, which make their own food and heterotrophs, which are dependent on others to obtain food. However, sometimes, organisms also live together in a relationship with each other. This relationship can be parasitic, symbiotic or mutualistic in nature.


Fungi are heterotrophic organisms that are eukaryotes. Fungi often exist in a symbiotic relationship with cyanobacteria such as green algae to form lichens. Fungi provide an anchor to the organism by providing protection and collecting nutrients, whereas, the algae prepares food for the fungi by the process of photosynthesis. Let us discuss the key points of difference between fungi and lichens.

Difference Between Fungi and Lichens

Fungi and lichens are organisms that are part of natural ecosystems. Fungi are heterotrophs and exist freely in nature but sometimes fungi and algae come together and get in a symbiotic relationship with each other. The algae part provides food and the fungi parts gives protection and collects nutrients from the environment. Before studying the points of difference between fungi and lichen, let us look at both of the organisms in detail. 


Fungi are multicellular organisms that are heterotrophic in nature. Heterotrophs are those organisms that cannot make their own food. Fungi are eukaryotic in nature, which means they have cell organelles like a nucleus. Fungi are essential to the smooth functioning of the natural ecosystem. Mycology is the term for the study of fungi. Fungi can reproduce by sexual and asexual modes of reproduction.

Yeast is single-celled fungi. Fungi also alternate between single and multicellular organisms depending upon the life cycle stage. Multicellular fungi have hyphae, which are tubular filament-like structures. The cell walls of fungi are made up of chitin, which is a hard substance commonly found in the exoskeletons of insects.

Fungi use the filament-like outgrowths to obtain food. Fungi can thrive in most environmental conditions and can obtain their food even from dead and decaying matter. This is the reason why fungi are essential to the natural ecosystem. Fungi clean up the dead and decaying matter by breaking it down. Also, fungi participate in symbiotic relationships with green algae to form lichens.


Lichens are complex organisms arising out of a symbiotic relationship between algae and fungus. Fungus, being the dominant partner, gives lichens most of its characteristics. Anyone or both green algae and blue-green algae can be present in lichens. The fungus part provides protection and collects moisture and nutrients so that the algae can photosynthesize and makes food for the fungus needed for its growth.

Lichens can be found in a variety of habitats. Lichens are commonly found on tree barks, rocks, gravestones, walls, etc. Lichen is often confused with moss. Even though lichen and moss are non-vascular plants, only mosses are plants. According to estimates, around 6-8% or the landmass is covered with lichens.

Lichens are also of importance to human beings owing to the fact that they absorb pollutants from the atmosphere. Also, lichens make the study of pollutants in the air easier. Scientists can test the presence of pollutants in the air with the help of lichens. Lichens also have economic importance.

What is the Difference Between Fungi and Lichens?

Fungi and lichens are organisms that are abundant in our ecosystem. Both organisms have important functions in the ecosystem. Fungi clean up the ecosystem by breaking down dead and decaying matter whereas lichens absorb pollutants from the atmosphere. The point of difference between fungi and lichens are given below:

Difference Between Fungi and Lichens



Fungi are most commonly found in tropical and subtropical regions of the world.

Lichens thrive in temperate and colder climates.

Fungi commonly grow in shady, dark and moist places.

Lichens grow freely when exposed to air and light.

Fungi are heterotrophic in nature.

Lichens are a product of a symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae.

Fungi feed on dead and decaying matter.

Lichens can survive in harsh climatic conditions.

Fungi are usually colourless.

Lichens are colourful due to the presence of acids in them.

Examples- moulds, yeast etc.

Examples - Iceland moss.

The Relation between Lichen and Fungi 

Students must have heard about fungi many times. Because they are the primary reason for the infections developed and also because of poisoning as a result of choosing harmful mushrooms. However, lichens might be a new term. They are a combination of fungi and algae. And are responsible for the indication of pollution in the environment. And that is the exact relation of lichen and fungi is having. The symbiotic relationship existing between the two helps us in so many ways.

The symbiotic relationship means that both the organisms involved will get the benefits. The other term for it is mutualism. And how they benefit from each other is by satisfying the needs of each other. For fungus, photosynthesis is obtained from algae. And with the help of fungus, algae can grow in drier environments. 

So you might be wondering how it indicates the pollution, right? It is the sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere that destroys the lichen to exist and thus you will see only green algae. So lichens are seen in the area where there is no pollution.

Edible Fungi 

From the time humans started exploring the land and marine, resources for food also went diverse. And one such was mushrooms. However, we end up choosing the harmful ones causing poisoning and allergies. And many went on to be seriously injured too. So it is high time, students must have the proper knowledge for identifying the good and bad fungi. 

And just like dividing down any complex steps, there are also simpler ways for identifying them. Some of them are mentioned below:

  • Colour changes when they are cut.

  • Can identify from the smell.

  • Any kind of markings like spikes, bruises will also help.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Lichens

You have already learned how lichens help us identify pollution in the environment. So there are other advantages like

  • Food sources

  • For some birds and animals, they are natural habitats.

  • Provides nesting materials for the birds.

  • Helps to protect trees and rocks. 

However, just like the flip side of a coin, there are disadvantages too for lichens. They are:

  • Some lichens are toxic.

  • They are poisonous at times.

  • In their raw form, they are indigestible. 

Get to read more about lichens at the Vedantu website and the app.

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FAQs on Difference Between Fungi And Lichens

1. Are there Any Harmful Fungi existing? 

The fungi become harmful when it causes serious illness issues for human beings. And mostly these harmful fungi will cause infections, allergies and poisoning. Although we use many mushrooms as edible ones, every mushroom is not. Mistakenly often people choose to eat harmful ones as well. So the listed ones below are some of the harmful ones you must always avoid!

  • Webcaps

  • Death cap

  • Autumn skullcap

  • Conocybe filaris

2. Are Fungi belonging to the Unicellular or Multicellular Organism?

When we check out fungi there are different types. They are:

  • Yeasts

  • Mushrooms

  • Molds

  • Eukaryotic heterotrophs

On the outside of their body, they can digest their food. And most fungi belong to the category of multicellular ones. However, yeast is unicellular. It might be because of its evolution caused by multicellular ancestors, yeast became simple unicellular ones. 

3. What does the Presence of Lichens indicate?

Lichens are called to be excellent indicators for pollution. Wherever lichens are found, it means there is no pollution developed at that place. Do you know how? Lichens are the mutual association of two; algae and fungus. Since they are very sensitive towards the sulphur dioxide in the air that comes through, they will react. And it destroys the lichens that are formed. So if there is pollution present, you can only see the green algae over the place. 

4. What is the Cell Wall of Fungi made of?

We all know how important a cell wall is important to microorganisms. It acts as a shield and their surviving capacity depends on how strong their walls are. So the fungi cell wall is made of three, they are:

  • Glucans

  • Chitins

  • Glycoproteins 

And you might have heard about these when you are going to bring antifungal medicines and all. And there is a cross-linkage between these three to make the cell walls stronger. 

5. Are Fungi Important to Us?

Do you know how much does fungi influence our life? If not, this is the right time to get to know about it. The dead and decay are decomposed by fungi. The production of food like bread helps us in fermentation. And mushrooms like fungi are edible food. Just like any other microorganisms existing, we all are related to each other. In other words, to survive, we must maintain codependency. If you are someone who is excited and curious to know more about fungi and lichens, read further from the Vedantu site and apps.