Morphological stasis in the first myxomycete from the Mesozoic, and the likely role of cryptobiosis
Citable Link (URL):http://resolver.sub.uni-goettingen.de/purl?gs-1/17051
Myxomycetes constitute a group within the Amoebozoa well known for their motile plasmodia and morphologically complex fruiting bodies. One obstacle hindering studies of myxomycete evolution is that their fossils are exceedingly rare, so evolutionary analyses of this supposedly ancient lineage of amoebozoans are restricted to extant taxa. Molecular data have significantly advanced myxomycete systematics, but the evolutionary history of individual lineages and their ecological adaptations remain unknown. Here, we report exquisitely preserved myxomycete sporocarps in amber from Myanmar, ca. 100 million years old, one of the few fossil myxomycetes, and the only definitive Mesozoic one. Six densely-arranged stalked sporocarps were engulfed in tree resin while young, with almost the entire spore mass still inside the sporotheca. All morphological features are indistinguishable from those of the modern, cosmopolitan genus Stemonitis, demonstrating that sporocarp morphology has been static since at least the mid-Cretaceous. The ability of myxomycetes to develop into dormant stages, which can last years, may account for the phenotypic stasis between living Stemonitis species and this fossil one, similar to the situation found in other organisms that have cryptobiosis. We also interpret Stemonitis morphological stasis as evidence of strong environmental selection favouring the maintenance of adaptations that promote wind dispersal.