Fossil of oldest known land-dweller identified

March 2, 2016
Fossil of oldest known land-dweller identified
Filaments of Tortotubus. Credit: Martin R. Smith

The earliest example of an organism living on land – an early type of fungus – has been identified. The organism, from 440 million years ago, likely kick-started the process of rot and soil formation, which encouraged the later growth and diversification of life on land.

A fossil dating from 440 million years ago is not only the oldest example of a fossilised fungus, but is also the oldest fossil of any land-dwelling organism yet found. The organism, and others like it, played a key role in laying the groundwork for more complex plants, and later animals, to exist on land by kick-starting the process of rot and , which is vital to all life on land.

This early pioneer, known as Tortotubus, displays a structure similar to one found in some modern fungi, which likely enabled it to store and transport nutrients through the process of decomposition. Although it cannot be said to be the first organism to have lived on land, it is the oldest fossil of a terrestrial organism yet found. The results are published in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society.

"During the period when this organism existed, life was almost entirely restricted to the oceans: nothing more complex than simple mossy and lichen-like plants had yet evolved on the land," said the paper's author Dr Martin Smith, who conducted the work while at the University of Cambridge's Department of Earth Sciences, and is now based at Durham University. "But before there could be flowering plants or trees, or the animals that depend on them, the processes of rot and soil formation needed to be established."

Working with a range of tiny microfossils from Sweden and Scotland, each shorter than a human hair is wide, Smith attempted to reconstruct the method of growth for two different types of fossils that were first identified in the 1980s. These fossils had once been thought to represent parts of two different organisms, but by identifying other fossils with 'in-between' forms, Smith was able to show that the fossils actually represented parts of a single organism at different stages of growth. By reconstructing how the organism grew, he was able to show that the fossils represent mycelium – the root-like filaments that fungi use to extract nutrients from soil.

It's difficult to pinpoint exactly when life first migrated from the seas to the land, since useful features in the that could help identify the earliest land colonisers are rare, but it is generally agreed that the transition started early in the Palaeozoic era, between 500 and 450 million years ago. But before any complex forms of life could live on land, there needed to be nutrients there to support them. Fungi played a key role in the move to land, since by kick-starting the rotting process, a layer of fertile soil could eventually be built up, enabling plants with root systems to establish themselves, which in turn could support animal life.

Fungi play a vital role in the nitrogen cycle, in which nitrates in the soil are taken up by plant roots and passed along food chain into animals. Decomposing fungi convert nitrogen-containing compounds in plant and animal waste and remains back into nitrates, which are incorporated into the soil and can again be taken up by plants. These early fungi started the process by getting nitrogen and oxygen into the soil.

Smith found that Tortotubus had a cord-like structure, similar to that of some modern fungi, in which the main filament sends out primary and secondary branches that stick back onto the main filament, eventually enveloping it. This cord-like structure is often seen in land-based organisms, allowing them to spread out and colonise surfaces. In modern fungi, the structure is associated with the decomposition of matter, allowing a fungus colony to move nutrients to where they are needed – a useful adaptation in an environment where nutrients are scarce and unevenly distributed.

In contrast with early plants, which lacked roots and therefore had limited interaction with activity beneath the surface, fungi played an important role in stabilising sediment, encouraging weathering and forming soils.

"What we see in this fossil is complex fungal 'behaviour' in some of the earliest terrestrial ecosystems – contributing to soil formation and kick-starting the process of rotting on land," said Smith. A question, however, is what was there for Tortotubus to decompose. According to Smith, it's likely that there were bacteria or algae on land during this period, but these organisms are rarely found as fossils.

Additionally, the pattern of growth in Tortotubus echoes that of the mushroom-forming fungi, although unambiguous evidence of mushrooms has yet to be found in the Palaeozoic fossil record. "This fossil provides a hint that mushroom-forming fungi may have colonised the land before the first animals left the oceans," said Smith. "It fills an important gap in the evolution of life on land."

Explore further: 'Smoke detector' enables fungal partnership that allowed plants to first survive on land

More information: Martin R. Smith. Cord-forming Palaeozoic fungi in terrestrial assemblages, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society (2016). DOI: 10.1111/boj.12389

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15 comments

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BartV
1.7 / 5 (11) Mar 02, 2016
Science says: "a type of fungus has been identified."

People with a lot of misguided imaginations and fantasies have to add:

"this likely kick-started the process of rot and soil formation."
"During the period when this organism existed, life was almost entirely restricted to the oceans."
"Life appeared magically first with Fungi moving to land, enabling plants with root systems to establish themselves, which in turn could support animal life..."

Very sorry for you evolutionists, but these fantasies are not supported by science. They are just imaginations.

viko_mx
1 / 5 (7) Mar 02, 2016
The process of evolution is unknown to science. Science recognise the process of degradation with time named entropy.
Phys1
4.3 / 5 (12) Mar 02, 2016
@BartV, viko_mx
Spoken like true religious ignoramuses.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (6) Mar 02, 2016
The process of evolution is unknown to science. Science recognise the process of degradation with time named entropy.

Unfortunately, Viko, you are wrong. "Entropy" does not work in a single direction. It's a process that can and often is controlled and it's direction changed - by man, of course, and ALSO by nature. A simple example - is a weather system always bad and gonna get worse? Or does it play itself out and we end up with a really nice day? That's Entropy in it's natural setting.
yep
5 / 5 (5) Mar 03, 2016
Science says: "a type of fungus has been identified."

People with a lot of misguided imaginations and fantasies have to add:

"this likely kick-started the process of rot and soil formation."
"During the period when this organism existed, life was almost entirely restricted to the oceans."
"Life appeared magically first with Fungi moving to land, enabling plants with root systems to establish themselves, which in turn could support animal life..."

Very sorry for you evolutionists, but these fantasies are not supported by science. They are just imaginations.


It's called a fossil record, which happens to be a little more concrete than then Sky Daddy made it all.
A fantasy is believing in the divinity of a book compiled by the Roman state to control its citizens almost two thousand years ago.
obama_socks
3 / 5 (3) Mar 03, 2016
Science says: "a type of fungus has been identified."

People with a lot of misguided imaginations and fantasies have to add:

"this likely kick-started the process of rot and soil formation."
"During the period when this organism existed, life was almost entirely restricted to the oceans."
"Life appeared magically first with Fungi moving to land, enabling plants with root systems to establish themselves, which in turn could support animal life..."

Very sorry for you evolutionists, but these fantasies are not supported by science. They are just imaginations.
- BartV
Whether you like it or not, it was necessary for the plants to be the first on the land mass so that they could establish and put down roots & flourish long before animals crawled up from the waters and ate the plants. It was the correct sequence of events. If the animals had come up first, they would not have found food on land & would starve or go back to the seas.
obama_socks
1.7 / 5 (6) Mar 03, 2016
@BartV, viko_mx
Spoken like true religious ignoramuses.
- Piss1
You're right. They haven't thoroughly read the Genesis part of the Bible and are ignorant of its reality and meaning, starting with Chapter 1. It's important to not take the Bible only at face value, but to examine line by line to find the true meanings.
Captain Stumpy
3 / 5 (4) Mar 03, 2016
Whether you like it or not, it was necessary for the plants to be the first on the land mass so that they could establish and put down roots & flourish long before animals crawled up from the waters and ate the plants. It was the correct sequence of events. If the animals had come up first, they would not have found food on land & would starve or go back to the seas.
of course... one more thing they "ignore" is that according to genesis, their deity of infallibility created plant life before the sun, too

and before anyone argues... try reading GEN before commenting
Thirteenth Doctor
5 / 5 (4) Mar 03, 2016
of course... one more thing they "ignore" is that according to genesis, their deity of infallibility created plant life before the sun, too


Yeah the infallible perfect creator also put humans' entertainment center right next to the sewage drainage pipe and our air intake right next to our fuel port. Some good ol' engineering that god.
bschott
1 / 5 (4) Mar 03, 2016
Yeah the infallible perfect creator also put humans' entertainment center right next to the sewage drainage pipe and our air intake right next to our fuel port. Some good ol' engineering that god.


Then the crazy bastard goes and makes the universe using physics beyond what we can measure or even comprehend, kinda like stump trying to open a pop can (psst, use the tab).

Man I bet he was pissed when mainstream "science" figured it out. But he had a good time watching Stump and the can for half an hour.
Captain Stumpy
3.4 / 5 (5) Mar 04, 2016
Then the crazy bastard goes and makes the universe using physics beyond what we can measure or even comprehend, kinda like stump trying to open a pop can (psst, use the tab).

Man I bet he was pissed when mainstream "science" figured it out. But he had a good time watching Stump and the can for half an hour.
ROTFLMFAO

i was going to give you a 5, but you started the whole troll rating so i had to give you a one

and i don't use the tab!
... if i need a drink fast, i use a gun!
if i need a lot to drink, a hatchet does the trick!
if i need to cool down, it's C-4 time!

those pesky tabs are just there for decoration, right?

[do i really need to note the above is humour?]
LMFAO
gkam
1 / 5 (4) Mar 04, 2016
"... if i need a drink fast, i use a gun!
if i need a lot to drink, a hatchet does the trick!
if i need to cool down, it's C-4 time!"
--------------------------------

Yeah, big words from someone who remains anonymous, and is HIDING who he really is, because he is scared of somebody.
Phys1
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 04, 2016
@BartV, viko_mx
Spoken like true religious ignoramuses.
- Piss1
You're right. They haven't thoroughly read the Genesis part of the Bible and are ignorant of its reality and meaning, starting with Chapter 1. It's important to not take the Bible only at face value, but to examine line by line to find the true meanings.

The account of genesis is remarkable, since a number of its elements are still part of science. In that sense todays evolution theory is a continuation of it.
The idea of the expanse separating the waters is a spectacular error, though.
Phys1
4 / 5 (4) Mar 04, 2016
@usa_socks
Your sense of humour is underdeveloped. I have seen this in many religious people. I guess you will have all the fun when you are dead.
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
3 / 5 (2) Mar 07, 2016
Magic peddlers trolling stupidly again:

- "The process of evolution is unknown to science".

"Evolution is a cornerstone of modern science, accepted as one of the most reliably established of all facts".

[ https://en.wikipe...volution ]

- "the true meanings."

Besides that we know there is no magic in nature, the myth text you refer to is known to be fully false. All the archaeology and history is wrong (or can't be checked).

Besides, that particular myth out of the 30 000 others that all claim they are "the true meaning" - so none are - it claims itself to be a liar at the outset.

If you read the 1st and 2nd chapter they tell the same series of events in differing order, a text telling the reader "I am a liar". How hard can it be to let yourself read the thing you try to peddle!?

Or look at the 30 000 similar sects that makes *the same claim*, a claim they can't therefore support?

It takes 10 s to drop magic, it's that easy.

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