Wood decay, also known as wood rot, is a process whereby microbes break down organic material. It is a destructive process which can weaken building structures. Various types of fungi have the capacity to decay wood, and it is important to identify the type of rot a particular piece of wood has.
Decay occurs when certain species of fungi feed on the cellulose and lignin in a piece of wood. These fungi are not capable of photosynthesis, and therefore they rely on enzymes, a group of biological agents which disintegrate wood cells.
When a fungus feeds on a piece of wood, it breaks down the cellulose and lignin, producing hydrogen peroxide. This chemical agent spreads quickly, and it is a major contributor to the decomposition of dead wood.
The process of decomposition requires warm and wet conditions. When wood is exposed to moisture, the fungi will begin to grow, and the cells will change. If the temperature is too low or the wood has too much water, the fungi will die.
The fungi can thrive in a variety of environments. However, the fungi cannot survive if the wood has too little moisture. Fungi must have an adequate amount of oxygen to live.
A fungus will produce a white rot or brown rot, depending on the specific characteristics of the wood. White rot is characterized by a stringy, whitish surface, while brown rot is brown because the lignin is oxidized. Eventually, the rotting wood becomes powdery and crumbly.