Peer Reviewed Research Paper
December 1 2023
Christine Strullu-Derrien, Tomasz Goral, Alan R. T. Spencer, Paul Kenrick, M. Catherine Aime, Ester Gaya & David L. Hawksworth
Fungi are integral to well-functioning ecosystems, and their broader impact on Earth systems is widely acknowledged. Fossil evidence from the Rhynie Chert (Scotland, UK) shows that Fungi were already diverse in terrestrial ecosystems over 407-million-years-ago, yet evidence for the occurrence of Dikarya (the subkingdom of Fungi that includes the phyla Ascomycota and Basidiomycota) in this site is scant. Here we describe a particularly well-preserved asexual fungus from the Rhynie Chert which we examined using brightﬁeld and confocal microscopy. We document Potteromyces asteroxylicola gen. et sp. nov. that we attribute to Ascomycota incertae sedis (Dikarya). The fungus forms a stroma-like structure with conidiophores arising in tufts outside the cuticle on aerial axes and leaf-like appendages of the lycopsid plant Asteroxylon mackiei. It causes a reaction in the plant that gives rise to dome-shaped surface projections. This suite of features in the fungus together with the plant reaction tissues provides evidence of it being a plant pathogenic fungus. The fungus evidently belongs to an extinct lineage of ascomycetes that could serve as a minimum node age calibration point for the Ascomycota as a whole, or even the Dikarya crown group, along with some other Ascomycota previously documented in the Rhynie Chert.