The exquisite preservation of organisms in the Early Devonian Rhynie chert ecosystem has permitted the documentation of the morphology and life history biology of fungi belonging to several major taxonomic groups (e.g., Chytridiomycota, Ascomycota, Glomeromycota). The Rhynie chert also provides the first unequivocal evidence in the fossil record of fungal interactions that can in turn be compared with those in modern ecosystems. These interactions in the Rhynie chert involve both green algae and macroplants, with examples of saprophytism, parasitism, and mutualism, including the earliest mycorrhizal associations and lichen symbiosis known to date in the fossil record. Especially significant are several types of specific host responses to fungal infection that indicate that these plants had already evolved methods of defence similar and perhaps analogous to those of extant plants. This suggests that mechanisms underlying the establishment and sustenance of associations of fungi with land plants were well in place prior to the Early Devonian. In addition, a more complete understanding of the microbial organisms involved in this complex ecosystem can also provide calibration points for phylogenies based on molecular data analysis. The richness of the microbial community in the Rhynie chert holds tremendous potential for documenting additional fungal groups, which permits speculation about further interactions with abiotic and biotic components of the environment.
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