Fungi are Heterotrophic
Fungi are not able to ingest their food like animals do, nor can they manufacture their own food the way plants do. Instead, fungi feed by absorption of nutrients from the environment around them. They accomplish this by growing through and within the substrate on which they are feeding. Numerous hyphae network through the wood, cheese, soil, or flesh from which they are growing. The hyphae secrete digestive enzymes which break down the substrate, making it easier for the fungus to absorb the nutrients which the substrate contains.
This filamentous growth means that the fungus is in intimate contact with its surroundings; it has a very large surface area compared to its volume. While this makes diffusion of nutrients into the hyphae easier, it also makes the fungus susceptible to dessication and ion imbalance. But usually this is not a problem, since the fungus is growing within a moist substrate.
Most fungi are saprophytes, feeding on dead or decaying material. This helps to remove leaf litter and other debris that would otherwise accumulate on the ground. Nutrients absorbed by the fungus then become available for other organisms which may eat fungi. A very few fungi actively capture prey, such as Arthrobotrys which snares nematodes on which it feeds. Many fungi are parastitic, feeding on living organisms without killing them. Ergot, corn smut, Dutch elm disease, and ringworm are all diseases caused by parasitic fungi.
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