Scientists beleive extinct fungus species capitalised on a world-wide disaster and thrived on early Earth.
Tiny organisms that covered the planet more than 250 million years ago appear to be a species of ancient fungus that thrived in dead wood, according to new research published today in the journal Geology.
The researchers behind the study, from Imperial College London and other universities in the UK, USA and The Netherlands, believe that the organisms were able to thrive during this period because the world’s forests had been wiped out. This would explain how the organisms, which are known as Reduviasporonites, were able to proliferate across the planet.
Researchers had previously been unsure as to whether Reduviasporonites were a type of fungus or algae. By analysing the carbon and nitrogen content of the fossilised remains of the microscopic organisms, the scientists identified them as a type of wood-rotting fungus that would have lived inside dead trees.
Fossil records of Reduviasporonites reveal chains of microscopic cells and reflect an organism that lived during the Permian-Triassic period, before the dinosaurs, when the Earth had one giant continent called Pangaea.
Geological records show that the Earth experienced a global catastrophe during this period. Basalt lava flows were unleashed on the continent from a location centred on what is present day Siberia. Up to 96 per cent of all marine species and 70 per cent of land species became extinct. Traditionally, scientists had thought that land plants weathered the catastrophe without much loss.