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Difference Between Algae and Fungi

Algae and fungi

Algae are a group of non-flowering plants that lack true stems, leaves, roots, and vascular bundles. They are mostly aquatic, and their typical examples include seaweeds. However, many types of algae exist, which are unicellular. Just like other plants, they also contain chlorophyll in their cells.

Fungi (singular fungus) is a group of eukaryotic organisms that we classify as a distinct kingdom, “fungi.” Their types range from microscopic forms to those visible to the naked eye (various mushrooms).

State the Difference Between Algae and Fungi

The two species, algae and fungi, are pretty distinguishing from one another in several aspects that we have enlisted below. So, let’s take a glance at them one by one.




Except for a type of algae known as cyanobacteria, all other types are eukaryotic. These organisms contain their genetic material in a nucleus enclosed by membranes called nuclear membranes. Also, other structures of the cell or organelles stay confined within membranes. Moreover, algae contain phycobilisomes (light-harvesting pigments) within their chloroplasts in the form of layers and sometimes circular DNA in the form of nucleoids.


While algae contain both prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms, fungi contain solely eukaryotic organisms having complex cellular structures, including the nucleus. Fungi exist in both unicellular and multicellular organisms, but some types are also dimorphic, which means that they shuffle between the unicellular and multicellular forms, depending on the environmental conditions. This adaptability provides an advantageous edge for the dimorphic forms for survival under harsh conditions.



The not-so-formal classification of algae includes three main types of this group named Chlorophyte, Rhodophyta, and Phaeophyta, depending majorly on the type of pigments present in their cells.

As per their names, they are also called green algae, red algae, and brown algae following the pigments, i.e., green, red, and brown, respectively. The pigments are chlorophyll a and b, beta-carotene, and xanthophylls (green, red, and brown, respectively).


Fungi were initially called plants, but they now constitute a whole separate kingdom. They are further classified into seven distinct species and subspecies. The names of these species are Microsporidia, Ascomycota, Glomeromycota, Basidiomycota, Chytridiomycota, Neocallimastigomycota, and Blastocladiomycota.

Microsporidia and Glomeromycota are parasites of the hosts, animals and plants, respectively. Ascomycota and basidiomycete produce spores in specialized sac-like structures known as asci and basidia. The rest of the phyla, i.e., chytridiomycosis, Neocallimastigomycota, and Blastocladiomycota, are characterized by the production of mobile zoospores.



Algae are mostly aquatic plants, but types are being present in various other habitats too. Their presence in a wide range of aquatic and dry habitats leads to classifying their types according to their habitations. Hence, are named as follows: hydrophytes, edaphophytes, aerophytes, cryophytes, symbionts or endophytes, endozoophytes, parasites, and fluviatile algae.

A brief explanation of these types is along these lines:

  • Hydrophyte – more or less submerged in the water, or free-floating on the water bodies.
  • Edaphophytes – alias terrestrial algae, are present either on the surface of or inside the earth.
  • Aerophytes – present in aerial habitats e.g., tree trunks, walls, rocks, fencing wires, animals, and other aerial substrata.
  • Cryophytes – exclusively found on ice and snow thus coloring the respective surfaces. Examples include green snow in arctic regions caused by the algae called Chlamydomonas species.
  • Symbionts/endophytes – grow in association with other plants where both parties benefit from each other. Typical examples are lichens in the roots of plants.
  • Endozoophytes – present inside the bodies of animals.
  • Parasites – live on some plants and cause damage to them e.g., red rust of tea.
  • Fluviatile – present in flowing waters such as mountain falls and streams.


Like algae, fungi also acquire various habitats and ecosystems ranging from terrestrial and aquatic environments to deserts. The following are the habitats in which fungi are usually found.

  • Moist and humid forests/woods – by far, the most common habitat of fungi are the woods, meadows, shadowed, moist and humid places. The rotting wood and leaf litter is also the reason for their abundant growth in the forests.
  • Grassy places – some are also found in grassy places of which the best example is the edible mushroom Fairy Ring Toadstool.
  • Animal dung – these are specific species of the genera fungi and are found growing only on specific kinds of dungs.
  • Tree roots – these fungi are found associated with the roots of the trees and both are mutually beneficial to each other. These are also known as mycorrhizae. Furthermore, among these, some fungi are choosy and will form associations with only a certain type of tree.
  • Soil – the most common form in which fungi occur in the soil is in association with bacteria. In this way, they form the primary decomposer of the soil ecosystem along with their partner bacteria.

Autotrophs vs Heterotrophs


Since most of the algae contain chlorophyll, the photosynthetic pigment, they can synthesize their own food with the help of sunlight. Hence, we name such organisms as autotrophs, synthesizing their food via photosynthesis.


Contrastingly to algae, fungi are heterotrophic, i.e., they cannot synthesize their food via photosynthesis and must obtain it from other sources. The major reason fungi are heterotrophic is that they do not contain the photosynthetic pigment chlorophyll in their cells.


Light Requirements for Living


Since algae are mostly autotrophic organisms necessitating the presence of light for the synthesis of their food, therefore they are unable to live in the absence of light.


These organisms do not require light to synthesize their food since most fungi are already decomposers, parasites, or mutually dependent on other organisms. Thus they are not affected by the presence of light and can grow in dark environments too.

Composition of Cell Wall


Since algae resemble mosses in many of their properties, they also contain cellulose as the major component of their cell walls. Moreover, cellulose is the main component of the cell walls of plants too. It is further composed of hundreds to thousands of glucose units.


The cell wall of fungi is composed majorly of chitin. Besides this, some glycans and glycoproteins are also present in their cell walls. Chitin is also a major component of the exoskeleton of many insects. It is a polymer composed of N-acetylglucosamine subunits, which is a derivative of glucose.

Basis of Differences between Algae and Fungi

Nature of CellEukaryotic except
for cyanobacteria
All types
are eukaryotic
ClassificationThree groupsSeven phyla
HabitatsAquatic, terrestrial,
and parasitic
80% humid, meadows,
and damp woods
Mode of
Food Synthesis
of Light
Cell Wall


Both living organisms, algae and fungi, are entirely different as algae prepare their own food, while fungi are prominent decomposers. Besides being divergent, both have significant importance in the ecosystem, where algae are the primary producer. On the other hand, fungi clean the environment due to their decomposition properties.

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