Nutrient acquisition by symbiotic fungi governs Palaeozoic climate transition.

Author: 

Mills BJW, Batterman SA, Field KJ.
Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2018 Feb 5;373(1739). pii: 20160503.

Abstract: 

Fossil evidence from the Rhynie chert indicates that early land plants, which evolved in a high-CO2 atmosphere during the Palaeozoic Era, hosted diverse fungal symbionts. It is hypothesized that the rise of early non-vascular land plants, and the later evolution of roots and vasculature, drove the long-term shift towards a high-oxygen, low CO2 climate that eventually permitted the evolution of mammals and, ultimately, humans. However, very little is known about the productivity of the early terrestrial biosphere, which depended on the acquisition of the limiting nutrient phosphorus via fungal symbiosis. Recent laboratory experiments have shown that plant-fungal symbiotic function is specific to fungal identity, with carbon-for-phosphorus exchange being either enhanced or suppressed under superambient CO2 By incorporating these experimental findings into a biogeochemical model, we show that the differences in these symbiotic nutrient acquisition strategies could greatly alter the plant-driven changes to climate, allowing drawdown of CO2 to glacial levels, and altering the nature of the rise of oxygen. We conclude that an accurate depiction of plant-fungal symbiotic systems, informed by high-CO2 experiments, is key to resolving the question of how the first terrestrial ecosystems altered our planet.This article is part of a discussion meeting issue 'The Rhynie cherts: our earliest terrestrial ecosystem revisited'. KEYWORDS: Palaeozoic; carbon dioxide; climate; evolution; mycorrhizal symbiosis; oxygen