Plant and fungi evolution, new study

This 2012 video says about itself:

Fungi: Death Becomes Them – CrashCourse Biology #39

Death is what fungi are all about. By feasting on the deceased remains of almost all organisms on the planet, converting the organic matter back into soil from which new life will spring, they perform perhaps the most vital function in the global food web. Fungi, which thrive on death, make all life possible.

From Virginia Tech in the USA:

A billion years of coexistence between plants and fungi

February 6, 2019

What can a billion years of coexistence tell us about the evolution of plants and fungi?

Neither plants nor fungi existed on land prior to 800 million years ago, an astonishing phenomenon considering their current immense biodiversity, ecosystem dominance, and impact on the environment.

Virginia Tech professor emeritus Khidir Hilu, along with a team of 13 researchers with complementary expertise in botany, mycology, paleontology, and bioinformatics, joined forces to address this question in a large-scale study published in Nature Communications.

“The movements of plants and fungi to land have irreversibly modified our planet physically and shaped their own biodiversity as well as that of the animal kingdom,” said Hilu, professor emeritus of the Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Science. “Our research shows that the successful plant and fungi invasion of land was an outcome of co-evolutionary interaction between the two that enhanced their biodiversities. These findings are timely considering current issues in climate change and notable extinctions experienced by plants and animals and the impact on our planet.”

The authors noted that although interactions between fungi and plants, including parasitism, mutualism (beneficial to both organisms), and saprotrophy (obtaining nutrients from dead plant parts), have been invoked as key mechanisms to their success, no one has explored contemporaneous evolutionary events throughout their history.

In this article, the authors methodologically explored the evolution of plants and fungi in a multiprong approach using molecular and bioinformatic techniques. They first established robust phylogenies, or evolutionary histories, for plants and fungi independently using gene sequence data generated in their labs or obtained from repositories of genome sequences.

Next, they estimated evolutionary divergence dates of plant and fungal lineages using both gene mutations and reliable fossil records. They then computed major shifts in diversification rates of major lineages in the two kingdoms independently. Once these studies were accomplished, the resulting phylogenetic relationships for plants and fungi were aligned on the same geological time scale, which allowed the researchers to pinpoint the origins of various key plant-fungal co-evolutionary events, particularly symbiotic relationships and the decomposition of plants by fungi. They noticed drastic shifts in diversification rates in the two kingdoms that convincingly showed plant-fungal co-evolution and interdependence across their long history.

The authors reported that fungal colonization of land was associated with and helped by at least two originations of terrestrial green algae, which preceded the origin of land plants. This coincided with the loss, ca. 720 million years ago, of fungal flagellum, a lash-like appendage that helps fungi swim in water.

Conversely, many million years later, during the Paleozoic Era, successful colonization of land by the lineage that eventually gave rise to all terrestrial plants living today was likely facilitated by fungi, specifically through fungal occupation of cells of the earliest land plants, promoting mutualism, which was key to plant and fungi success on land.

One of the significant biological, ecological, and environmental events on Earth is the origin and initial diversification of a lineage containing all plants that bear seeds. Seed plants, which include conifers and flowering plants, emerged during the Silurian Period about 436 million years ago. Significantly, one of the distinguishing traits of this plant lineage was the presence of a distinctive type of cell division that gave rise to wood. This led to the evolution of large woody trees, which in turn, resulted in the establishment of the first inland forests based on lignin-rich wood as their backbone.

Such a move could not have been successful without the linked evolution with fungi and their capacity to digest the structural polymer lignin and cellulose of plant cell walls. This evolutionary novelty was instrumental in organic matter recycling, which led to the forest system being sustained. The origin and early diversification of the seed plant lineage was in turn followed by the evolution of the largest classes of fungi, the Agaricomycetes.

The origin of ectomycorrhizal fungi (fungi associated externally with plant roots) seems to have resulted from a series of evolutionary innovations in plants including the origins of wood, seeds, and roots. These consequential evolutionary events were crucial in promoting the diversification leading to existing seed plants, including cone-bearing plants such as pines, spruces, maidenhairs, and cycads, as well as flowering plants, and their expansion to drier environments.

The latter group, in addition to including most living plant species and major ecosystems, such as forests and grasslands, also encompasses an astounding diversity in form and function and provides almost all of our food plants. Ectomycorrhizal fungi form a symbiotic relationship with plants and can produce networks around the plant roots to aid in water and nutrient uptake, often assisting the host plant to survive adverse weather conditions.

The macroevolution of plants and fungi has been studied mostly separately; however, this study clearly demonstrates that their respective evolutionary histories are deeply interconnected and can be understood only through a simultaneous study of their phylogenies within a robust timeframe.

It is expected that the same will hold true for the evolution of the animal kingdom, a group highly dependent on photoautotrophic plants, as well as microorganisms in general.


‘New’ fungus species threatens old Portuguese cathedral

This November 2017 video, in Portuguese, is about the old cathdral of Coimbra city.

From ScienceDaily:

New family of fungi threatens a UNESCO-listed 8-century-old cathedral in Portugal

January 28, 2019

Summary: A peculiar fungus was retrieved from an artwork in the Old Cathedral of Coimbra, Portugal during a multi-disciplinary scientific survey. The organism was found to belong to the group of microcolonial black fungi, which are infamous amongst conservationists and biologists who care for historic monuments. They cause significant biodeterioration to stone monuments due to their successful adaptation to hostile environmental conditions.

To be listed as UNESCO World Heritage requires special care and protection of valuable cultural monuments and pieces of art from threats such as biodeterioration caused by microcolonial black fungi. The culprits lodge their branch-like structures (hyphae) deep into the stone forming fissures and cracks and also produce polysaccharides that trigger corrosion.

These fungi are well known for their unique resistance to hostile environmental conditions, including extreme temperatures, high solar and UV radiation, severe droughts and low abundance of nutrients. As a result, they survive in hot and cold deserts, saltpans, acidic and hydrocarbon-contaminated sites and exposed rocks surfaces. All of this makes them a particular challenge to conservationists and biologists who care for historic monuments.

During a multi-disciplinary scientific survey at the 8-century-old cathedral Sé Velha de Coimbra (Old Cathedral of Coimbra), which is the only Romanesque cathedral in Portugal to have survived relatively intact since the Reconquista times, scientists retrieved a peculiar slow-growing microcolonial black fungus.

What João Trovão of the University of Coimbra (Portugal) and his colleagues were looking at turned out to be a species of a whole new family (Aeminiaceae) in the order of the sooty mould fungi. The new species, its new genus and the novel family are described in the open-access journal MycoKeys.

To define the new group of fungi, the researchers first scraped off samples from a deteriorated limestone artwork in the “Santa Maria” chapel and then conducted an extensive and integrative analysis, based on morphological, physiological, ecological characters and DNA sequences.

As for the origin of the previously unknown fungus, the scientists hypothesise that the species had ‘arrived’ at the Old Cathedral of Coimbra with the limestone used during its construction. Coming from the unique nearby areas of Ançã and Portunhos, such limestone has been used on several of the “Our Ladies of the O” statues, as well as in the portal of the Royal Hospital in Santiago de Compostela (Spain). Currently, these fungi are considered endemic to the limestone quarries in the Iberian Peninsula.

“Regarding stone monuments exposed to the environment, microcolonial black fungi are considered one of the main culprits for the phenomenon of stone biodeterioration, being responsible for severe aesthetic, biochemical and biophysical alterations,” comment the scientists.

“It is, therefore, crucial to gather deeper knowledge regarding their biodiversity and their biological, ecological and physiological unique characteristics, in order to span our knowledge regarding these fungi and, at the same time, allow the development and improvement of tools to protect stone monuments from their deteriorative effects.”

New Arctic fungi species discovered

This video is called 2008 Ellesmere Island Expedition: National Geographic Wild Chronicles.

From the Research Organization of Information and Systems in Japan:

Scientists identify two new species of fungi in retreating Arctic glacier

January 15, 2019

Two new species of fungi have made an appearance in a rapidly melting glacier on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic, just west of Greenland. A collaborative team of researchers from Japan’s National Institute of Polar Research, The Graduate University for Advanced Studies in Tokyo, Japan, and Laval University in Québec, Canada made the discovery.

The scientists published their results on DATE in two separate papers, one for each new species, in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.

“The knowledge of fungi inhabiting the Arctic is still fragmentary. We set out to survey the fungal diversity in the Canadian High Arctic,” said Masaharu Tsuji, a project researcher at the National Institute of Polar Research in Japan and first author on both papers. “We found two new fungal species in the same investigation on Ellesmere Island.”

One species is the 10th to join the genus Mrakia, with the proposed name M. hoshinonis, in honor of Tamotsu Hoshino, a senior researcher at the National Institute of Advanced Science and Technology in Japan. Hoshino has made significant contributions to the study of fungi in polar regions. The other species is the 12th to join the genus Vishniacozyma, with the proposed name V. ellesmerensis as a nod to the island where it was found. Both species are types of yeast that are well-adapted to the cold and can even grow below 0°C.

The samples of fungi were collected from the unofficially named Walker Glacier. The designation comes from Paul T. Walker, who installed the datum pole that measures the glacier’s growth and shrinkage, in 1959. At the time of sample collection in 2016, measurements showed that the glacier was receding at a rate two-and-a-half times faster than its retreat over the previous 50 years.

“Climate-related effects have been observed in this region over the last 20 years,” Tsuji said. “Soon, some of the glaciers may completely melt and disappear.”

Only about five percent of fungi species have been discovered, but their function across ecological climates is well understood — from the tropics to the Arctic, fungi decompose dead organic material. Each species operates a little differently, but their general role is to reintroduce nutrients from dead plant material back into the ecosystem. If the glaciers melt, the fungi lose their habitat. The results could have catastrophic knock-on effects throughout the ecosystem, according to Tsuji, although more research is needed to understand exactly how the changing climate is influencing fungi beyond destroying their habitat.

Next, Tsuji and his team plan to survey the fungi in Ward Hunt Lake, the northern most lake in the world. It is on Ward Hunt Island, just off the northern coast of Ellesmere Island, and less than 500 miles from the North Pole

“Normally, the lake’s ice doesn’t melt during the summer season. However, the ice melted completely in 2016. We plan to continuously check how the lake’s fungal diversity changes,” Tsuji said. The different species could evolve, or, potentially, go extinct. “Eventually, we plan to compile all of our studies to provide an overview of terrestrial ecosystems in the Arctic and Antarctic regions.”

Australian bettongs and fungi

This video from Australia says about itself:

Endangered northern bettong crucial to the survival of Queensland’s tropical ecosystem

6/12/2018 The five-year WWF-Australia-funded project — which tracked the northern bettong — found there had been a 70 per cent decline in the marsupial’s population in the past 30 years.

Read more here.

By Laurel Hamers, 1:21pm, December 14, 2018:

Endangered northern bettongs aren’t picky truffle eaters

The marsupials’ varied diet could help safeguard some of Australia’s fungi and forests

A small endangered marsupial with a taste for truffles may be a linchpin in one kind of Australian forest — and the evidence is in the animal’s poop.

Northern bettongs feast on truffles, the meaty, spore-producing parts of certain fungi. Plenty of animals eat a selection of these subterranean orbs from time to time. But analyses of the scat from northern bettongs (Bettongia tropica) reveal that the marsupials eat truffles from a wider diversity of fungi species than other critters, including some that no other animals appear to favor, researchers report November 22 in Molecular Ecology.

That’s an important role because these truffle-producing fungi form beneficial relationships with tree roots, helping trees pull nutrients and moisture from soil. “There’s been a whole raft of published studies showing that those fungi give plants an edge”, says Andrew Claridge, an ecologist for the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service in Queanbeyan who wasn’t part of the study.

Australia’s eucalyptus forests host hundreds, or possibly even thousands, of truffle fungi species, says study coauthor Susan Nuske, an ecologist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Umeå. Different species seem to be specialized to associate with particular trees or perform certain roles, so maintaining that diversity is key. By spreading truffles’ spores via scat, bettongs help keep the fungal community diverse and, by extension, the forest healthy, say Nuske and her colleagues.

But bettongs, once so abundant that they were considered garden pests, are now at risk of extinction. The marsupials, which have kangaroo-like hind legs and prehensile tails, live only in a narrow band of habitat where dense rainforest transitions to a more open eucalyptus-dominated forest. That territory has shrunk over time. A World Wildlife Fund-Australia report published December 6 estimates that bettongs’ habitat has declined by 70 percent in the past decade. Fewer than 2,500 of the animals are left in the wild, the WWF estimates.

Wiping out bettongs in a particular area would probably lower the diversity of fungi, sending ripple effects through the whole forest, says Nuske.

Nuske and her colleagues set out traps at three sites in North Queensland, and then collected poop samples from captured bettongs and other small mammals. The team analyzed DNA in the scat to figure out what species of fungi the animals were eating, matching small pieces of DNA to online databases cataloging the fungi’s genetic information. The researchers also created a local genetic database by gathering and analyzing fungi from the area.

Bettongs ate a greater diversity of truffle fungi than any of the nine other species that the scientists trapped, which included bandicoots and native rats. Other animals in these ecosystems also eat truffles, but most eat them only seasonally or part time. Fungi (both truffle fungi and other kinds) are the main components of bettongs’ diet, and the marsupials appear to be filling an ecological niche that other species aren’t, the researchers say.

Still, the relationships between trees, their associated fungi and truffle-eating animals can be challenging to study in the wild. That’s because the fungi live underground and the web of associations is complex. It’s possible that if bettongs weren’t around, other animals would adjust their diets and eat more species of fungi. But it’s unlikely that the other creatures could fully compensate for these voracious fungivores, the researchers say. They now want to analyze truffle fungus diversity in areas where bettongs once lived but have disappeared to see how those ecosystems have changed over time.

Ecologists and conservationists have been championing the bettong’s importance in sustaining these marginal forests for decades, says Claridge, but the outlook hasn’t improved for the marsupial. The new work is “a modern take on an old story,” he says, using genetic techniques to confirm the bettong’s importance in more detail.

The work is part of a larger World Wildlife Fund project looking at the role that bettongs play in their ecosystems to figure out how to best protect them. The report also outlines strategies for using controlled burning to encourage native habitat restoration and keep rainforests from encroaching farther on bettongs’ turf.

North American fungi, new checklist

This December 2017 video from the USA says about itself:

When Giant Fungi Ruled

420 million years ago, a giant feasted on the dead, growing slowly into the largest living thing on land. It belonged to an unlikely group of pioneers that ultimately made life on land possible — the fungi.

Thanks to Franz Anthony of and Jon Hughes of for their tremendous reconstructions of Prototaxites.

From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in the USA:

North American checklist identifies the fungus among us

November 28, 2018

Some fungi are smelly and coated in mucus. Others have gills that glow in the dark. Some are delicious; others, poisonous. Some spur euphoria when ingested. Some produce antibiotics.

All of these fungi — and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, more — occur in North America. Of those that are known to science, 44,488 appear in a new checklist of North American fungi, published this month in the journal Mycologia.

“This checklist provides the basis for understanding our national mycoflora, which is timely since there is renewed interest in cataloging all North American fungi,” said Illinois Natural History Survey mycologist Andrew Miller, who led the effort to compile the data. “Hundreds of citizen scientists are interested in helping with this project.”

By conservative estimates, scientists have so far documented less than one-third of all fungi thought to exist in North America, said Miller, who also is an affiliate of the department of plant biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where the INHS is based. Collaborators on the checklist include Scott Bates, of Purdue University Northwest, and the Macrofungi and Microfungi Collections Consortia.

While thousands of species of fungi were first identified and described from Europe, many North American fungi have evolved and diversified. Others are unique to the continent, Miller said.

“Many fungi in North America have European names, and while they may be related to their European counterparts, they often are genetically distinct,” Miller said. “About half of the 44,488 fungi in the new checklist are type specimens, which means they are valid North American taxa.”

To compile the checklist, the team searched over 2.2 million records using the Mycology Collections Portal, which includes data from numerous universities, botanical gardens and other institutions. The researchers first built a checklist of all North American fungal species and subspecies, removed those categorized as lichen, then organized the list alphabetically by genus and species.

About 20,000 of the fungi in the checklist are mushrooms; the rest are barely visible with the naked eye and are thus classified as “microfungi”, Miller said. These include molds, mildews and rusts, along with species that break down organic matter in the soil.

Some of the microfungi are pathogens, others are useful. Penicillium is best known for the production of penicillin. Microfungi also include yeasts that aid in breadmaking and alcohol production, along with those that contribute to infections like athlete’s foot and yeast infections.

The macrofungi can range in size from the barely visible to the colossal, Miller said.

“One of the largest living organisms on the planet is a honey mushroom, Armillaria solidipes,” Miller said. “It occurs in the Malheur National Forest in eastern Oregon, where it grows — mostly hidden — underground. It stretches 3.5 miles across, covers an area larger than 1,665 football fields and is believed to be more than 2,400 years old.”

Another fungus, the giant puffball, Calvatia gigantea, may contain as many as 7 trillion spores, Miller said.

“If every spore actually germinated and grew into a puffball, the puffballs produced would weigh more than the Earth,” he said.

Fungi have co-evolved with plants for millions of years and were instrumental in helping plants transition from aquatic environments onto land, Miller said. They are essential to the cycle of life, breaking down organic matter and converting it back to its fundamental components.

“Although an estimated 1.5-5.1 million species of fungi are believed to exist on Earth, only about 120,000 have been discovered and described,” Miller said. “Obviously, we have a lot of work to do to fill in the gaps of our knowledge, but this checklist is a first step to getting our arms around North America’s fungi.”

The INHS is a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the U. of I.

This project was made possible by the National Science Foundation’s Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections program, which supports the Macrofungi Collections Consortium and the Microfungi Collections Consortium.

Fungi in Northern Ireland, video

This 9 November 2018 video says about itself:

Fungi are mostly hidden from view, but they are all around us. Neither plants or animal, they play an important in ecosystems, acting as recyclers or partnering with plants in mutually beneficial relationships.

Autumn is one of the best times to spot fungi. This is when many produce their spore-containing fruiting bodies. These can take the familiar mushroom form, or more unusual shapes such as brackets.

In this 360° film, join Sophie Atkinson from the Natural Trust at Springhill House in Northern Ireland. With the help of members of the Cookstown Wildlife Trust, she leads a fungi walk through the grounds of the house.