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Saprotrophic fungi are obliged to spend energy on growth, reproduction, and substrate digestion. To understand the trade-offs involved, we developed a model that, for any given growth rate, identifies the strategy that maximizes the fraction of energy that could possibly be spent on reproduction. Our model's predictions of growth rates and bioconversion efficiencies are consistent with empirical findings, and it predicts the optimal investment in reproduction, resource acquisition, and biomass recycling for a given environment and timescale of reproduction. Thus, if the timescale of reproduction is long compared to the time required for the fungus to double in size, the model suggests that the total energy available for reproduction is maximal when a very small fraction of the energy budget is spent on reproduction. The model also suggests that fungi growing on substrates with a high concentration of low-molecular-weight compounds will not benefit from recycling: they should be able to grow more rapidly and allocate more energy to reproduction without recycling. In contrast, recycling offers considerable benefits to fungi growing on recalcitrant substrates, where the individual hyphae are not crowded and the time taken to consume resource is significantly longer than the fungus doubling time.

Original publication




Journal article


Am Nat

Publication Date





E27 - E40


autophagy, energy allocation, fungal growth, life-history strategies, Energy Metabolism, Fungi, Models, Biological, Reproduction