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Fungi Evolution

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What were early fungi like?

Early fungi probably lived in water. And they were most likely single-celled organisms. Maybe they lived on dead and decaying material. Obviously, at least in overall size and structure, a mold is very different than a mushroom. Could early fungi have been similar to a mold?

Evolution of Fungi

DNA evidence suggests that almost all fungi have a single common ancestor. The earliest fungi may have evolved about 600 million years ago or even earlier. They were probably aquatic organisms with a flagellum. Fungi first colonized the land at least 460 million years ago, around the same time as plants. Fossils of terrestrial fungi date back almost 400 million years (see Figure below ). Starting about 250 million years ago, the fossil record shows fungi were abundant in many places. They may have been the dominant life forms on Earth at that time.

This rock contains fossilized fungi. The fungi lived 396 million years ago in what is now Scotland. They were preserved when they were covered with lava from a volcano. The lava cooled and hardened into rock.

Summary

  • Almost all fungi have a single common ancestor.
  • The earliest fungi may have evolved about 600 million years ago.
  • Fungi colonized land at least 460 million years ago.
  • By 250 million years ago, they may have been the dominant life forms on Earth.

Practice

Use this resource to answer the questions that follow.

  1. How is it known that fungi lived symbiotically with plants during the Paleozoic Era?
  2. How may fungi have moved from water onto land?

Review

1. Summarize the evolution of fungi.

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