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Edwards et al., 2020

Further evidence for fungivory in the Lower Devonian (Lochkovian) of the Welsh Borderland, UK

Edwards, D., Axe, L., Morris, J. L., Boddy, L., Selden, P.
AjakiriPaläontologische Zeitschrift
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The recent demonstrations that widespread mid-Palaeozoic Prototaxites and other nematophytes had fungal affinities indicate that terrestrial fungi were important elements in carbon cycling in the Early Devonian. Here, we provide evidence for their participation in the recycling of nutrients by early terrestrial invertebrates. Evidence is in the form of coprolites, both those associated with nematophytes or containing their fragmentary remains. Cylindrical coprolites consistently associated with fungal mats are placed in a new ichnospecies, Bacillafaex myceliorum. Their contents are granular to amorphous, suggestive of complete digestion of the ingested hyphae, with the inference of possession of chitinases in the digestive tracts of the consumers. A further single example comprises a cluster of cylindrical bodies attached to the lower surface of a Nematothallus fragment. Here, homogenisation was less complete, with traces of hyphae remaining. Terrestrial animal fossils have not been found at the locality, but scorpions, pseudoscorpions, Opiliones, mites, centipedes (carnivores) and millipedes, and Collembola (detritivores) have been recorded from the slightly younger Rhynie cherts. Studies of fungivory in extant arthropods have concentrated on Collembola and, to a lesser extent, mites, but their faecal pellets are much smaller than the fossil examples. Millipedes, based on body size and faeces of extant forms, are considered more realistic producers, but little is known about fungal feeding in these animals. Regardless of the affinities of the producers, the diversity in morphology, sizes, aggregations, and composition of nematophyte-containing examples suggests that fungivory was an important component of carbon cycling in early terrestrial ecosystems.

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