March 22 2017

12:00 158 HH

Katie Field
Centre for Plant Sciences
University of Leeds

Symbiotic Options for the Conquest of Land Symbiotic Options for the Conquest of Land


The colonisation of Earth’s continental land masses by plants >475 Ma marked a turning point in the development of the terrestrial biosphere, with widespread consequences for the future of terrestrial life. It has long been hypothesised that the terrestrialisation of plants was facilitated by nutritional symbioses with Glomeromycota fungi , forming arbuscular mycorrhiza-like associations. The establishment of this symbiosis would likely have enhanced access to mineral nutrients for early, rootless plants in exchange for carbon fixed through photosynthesis. Our recent discoveries that the earliest diverging clade of land plants (Haplomitriopsida liverworts) forms mutualistic symbioses with partially saprotrophic Mucoromycotina fungi challenge this long-standing paradigm. Using a combination of microscopic, molecular and isotope tracer techniques, we have shown that other lineages of early-diverging liverworts form simultaneous mutualistic associations with both Glomeromycota and Mucoromycotina fungi. Together with recent fossil evidence from the Rhynie Chert, these findings bring into question the identity, biology and functioning of the fungal symbionts of the earliest land plants. Here, I raise the hypothesis that there were symbiotic options available to the earliest land plants and that such relationships may have been far more varied and transient than hitherto assumed.