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Fungal intruders of enigmatic propagule clusters occurring in microbial mats from the Lower Devonian Rhynie chert

Abstract

Microbial mats in the Lower Devonian Rhynie chert represent diverse communities of organisms, which probably not only co-occurred in these structures, but also variously interacted with one another. However, little is known about these interactions. Three different types of fungi interact with clusters of small propagules that frequently occur within the Rhynie microbial mats. One of the fungi occurs in the form of small mycelia and single reproductive units within individual propagules, while the second is characterized by apophysate, epibiotic sporangia and multibranched rhizoidal systems that extend through the clusters and penetrate individual propagules. The third fungus consists of what is interpreted as a distal sporangium or spore from which a long, tubular stalk reaches into the propagule cluster. One specimen of the latter fungus occurs inside a specimen of the second fungus and, moreover, shows evidence suggestive of hyperparasitism in the form of conical callosities. This discovery supports the suggestion that microbial mats in the Rhynie paleoecosystem were complex structures based on the presence of numerous interactions between different organisms within the mats.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge financial support from the National Science Foundation (DEB-1441604 subcontract S1696A-A to M.K.) and the Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation (3.1-USA/1160852 STP to C.J.H.). We gratefully acknowledge N. Dotzler, H. Martin, and S. Sónyi (all Munich, Germany) for technical assistance, and Charles H. Wellman (Sheffield, UK) and James F. White (New Brunswick, NJ, USA) for insightful comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Michael Krings.

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Krings, M., Harper, C.J. Fungal intruders of enigmatic propagule clusters occurring in microbial mats from the Lower Devonian Rhynie chert. PalZ 93, 135–149 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12542-018-0427-3

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12542-018-0427-3

Keywords

  • Apophysis
  • Chytridiomycota
  • Mucoromycota
  • Nematoda
  • Parasitism
  • Reproductive unit
  • Rhizoidal system
  • Zoosporangium