According to the newest discovery by paleontologist Martin Smith, the oldest fossil on land belongs to a fungus, which had a very important role in the creation of more advanced life. His study was released last Wednesday in the Botanical Journal of the Linnaean Society and gives us a new insight on the Tortotubus protuberans fungi.
According to Martin Smith, author of the study from the Durham University, it appears that the oldest terrestrial fossils in the world belong to a fungus that lived during an important time in the history of our planet.
Tortotubus appeared in a rocky and bare environment about 440 million years ago. Back then, the Earth looked more like the moon or Mars, and the only living beings were algae structures that would float on the surface of shallow waters. However, this was soon changed by Tortotubus.
The fungus was able to create soils rich in nutrients that contributed to the stability of the surface of the Earth. It also favored the growth of mycelium, strands similar to roots that prevent the erosion of soil due to rain storm and wind.
Furthermore, Tortotubus also broke down dead organisms from that time, thus cleansing the planet. These actions were of immense value since organisms cannot provide resources for future generations without the process of decomposition. Thanks to the fungus, plant species have greatly diversified. Tortotubus did its duty for seventy million years before going extinct. By that time, the first forests had already appeared.
This fungus is exceptional because its kind almost never leaves fossils behind. Its preservation has probably been helped by the isolation of Tortotubus with clay or fine silt. The fossils samples were found in different parts of the world, including New York, Scotland, Sweden and North Africa.
According to Smith, the most recent samples are dated to 386 million years, while the oldest ones discovered in Africa are 445 million years old. Further investigations might prove that Tortotubus is a bit younger, but it would still hold the record of the oldest fossil in the world.
Researchers have determined that the fungus had a small size, its largest specimens being shorter than the width of human hair.
Such fossils are not discovered in the field. Geologists collect different rocks and examine them closely in a laboratory, the same way Tortotubus was identified. The astonishing finding proves that the fungi had colonized Earth before the first aquatic animals climbed on the shores, and thus completes another gap in the history of life evolution.
Image Source: Live Science