Perithecial ascomycetes from the 400 million year old Rhynie chert: an example of ancestral polymorphism

Mycologia. Jan-Feb 2005;97(1):269-85.


We describe a perithecial, pleomorphic ascomycetous fungus from the Early Devonian (400 mya) Rhynie chert; the fungus occurs in the cortex just beneath the epidermis of aerial stems and rhizomes of the vascular plant Asteroxylon. Perithecia are nearly spherical with a short, ostiolate neck that extends into a substomatal chamber of the host plant; periphyses line the inner surface of the ostiole. The ascocarp wall is multilayered and formed of septate hyphae; extending from the inner surface are elongate asci interspersed with delicate paraphyses. Asci appear to be unitunicate and contain up to 16 smooth, uniseriate-biseriate ascospores. The method of ascospore liberation is unknown; however, the tip of the ascus is characterized by a narrow, slightly elevated circular collar. Ascospores appear 1-5 celled, and germination is from one end of the spore. Also present along the stems and interspersed among the perithecia are acervuli of conidiophores that are interpreted as the anamorph of the fungus. Conidiogenesis is thallic, basipetal and probably of the holoarthric-type; arthrospores are cube-shaped. Some perithecia contain mycoparasites in the form of hyphae and thick-walled spores of various sizes. The structure and morphology of the fossil fungus is compared with modern ascomycetes that produce perithecial ascocarps, and characters that define the fungus are considered in the context of ascomycete phylogeny.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Ascomycota* / classification
  • Ascomycota* / genetics
  • Ascomycota* / isolation & purification
  • Ascomycota* / ultrastructure
  • Fossils*
  • History, Ancient
  • Plants / microbiology*
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • Spores, Fungal / physiology
  • Spores, Fungal / ultrastructure