Oldest mushroom fossil discovered

By Angela Heathcote 8 June 2017
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Scientists were surprised to find that the mushroom fossil was preserved in limestone rather than amber.

A mushroom fossil, found to be over 115 million years old, has been unearthed in north eastern Brazil by scientists, making it the oldest mushroom fossil to date.

While the discovery of fibres from certain fungi is common, whole mushrooms, with their fruiting bodies, are rare. Previously the oldest known mushroom fossil dated back 99 million years.

The newly discovered mushroom fossil dates back to the Lower Cretaceous period—a time when dinosaurs were the dominant land animals and continents we know today, were shaped a lot differently.

The way the mushroom fossil was preserved was of particular interest to scientists.

”Mushrooms are very poorly represented in the fossil record – and up until now fossil mushrooms have always been preserved in amber. It is exciting to hear about the discovery of Gondwanagaricites – a fossil mushroom in limestone, and the first fossil mushroom from the Southern Hemisphere,” said Tom May, a senior mycologist from the Royal Botanic Gardens Herbarium.

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The mushroom fossil has been named Gondwanagaricites magnificus, meaning “magnificent fossil mushroom from Gondwana,” after the ancient supercontinent.

Co-author of the research, Sam Heads from the University of Illinois told The Guardian that the team were unsure of how exactly the fossil was found or extracted, as it was donated along with a collection of fossilised insects, almost slipping under the radar.

Tom told Australian Geographic that the fossils preservation in limestone makes him hopeful that this means there are more mushroom fossils to be discovered.

“Investigating the evolution of mushrooms has been difficult because fossils of fungi are very rare compared to the remains of plants and animals (such as leaves or bones) due to the lack of structural tissues in all apart from a few tough types such as bracket fungi… This gives hope that there may be other fossil mushrooms apart from in amber awaiting discovery.”