An ancient plant group worked together with soil-dwelling fungi to ‘green' the Earth in the early Palaeozoic era, nearly half a billion years ago. This finding resulted from research by scientists at the University of Sheffield, which has shed light on how the Earth's first plants began to colonise the land over 470 million years ago by forming a partnership with soil fungi.

The research, was published recently in Nature Communications , has provided essential missing evidence.

Scientists have long-suspected that soil fungi formed mutually beneficial relationships with early land plants to play an essential role in assisting their initial colonisation of terrestrial environments. The team studied a thalloid liverwort plant, which is a member of the most ancient group of land plants that still exists and still shares many of the original features of its ancestors. They used controlled-environment growth rooms to simulate a CO {-2}-rich atmosphere, similar to that of the Palaeozoic era when these plants originated.

This environment significantly amplified the benefits of the fungi for the plant's growth and so favoured the early formation of the association between the plant and its fungal partner.

The team found that when the thalloid liverwort was colonised by the fungi, it significantly enhanced photosynthetic carbon uptake, growth and asexual reproduction, factors that had a beneficial impact on plant fitness. The plants grow and reproduce better when colonised by symbiotic fungi because the fungi provide essential soil nutrients. In return, the fungi also benefit by receiving carbon from the plants. — Our Bureau