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Am Nat. 2005 Dec;166(6):767-75. Epub 2005 Oct 6.

Explaining Dioscorides' "double difference": why are some mushrooms poisonous, and do they signal their unprofitability?

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Department of Biology, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K1S 5B6, Canada.


The adaptive significance of toxins in mushrooms has received very little consideration, although it is clear that poisons have appeared (and/or disappeared) many times in mushrooms' evolutionary history. One possibility is that poisons have evolved in some mushroom species to deter their consumption by would-be fungivores before spore dispersal. If this is so, then one might expect poisonous mushrooms to signal their unprofitability in some way. In this study, we have conducted the first formal analysis of the ecological and morphological traits associated with edible and poisonous mushrooms in North America and Europe. Poisonous mushrooms do not tend to be more colorful or aggregated than edible mushrooms, but they are more likely to exhibit distinctive odors even when phylogenetic relationships are accounted for. This raises the intriguing possibility that some poisonous species of mushrooms have evolved warning odors (and perhaps tastes) to enhance avoidance learning by fungivores.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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