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Fruiting body evolution is one of the central topics in fungal evolutionary biology. A number of hypotheses have been developed to explain the contemporary diversity of fruiting body forms, but their evaluation has been hampered by the lack of well-sampled data sets and suitable statistical methods. Phylogenetic evidence of the physiological changes that accompany switches in fruiting body type is lacking, and very little is known about the age of major events of fruiting body evolution. Based on a new multigene phylogeny, by using Bayesian methods, we demonstrate the existence of correlation between a number of morphological features and switches from nondeliquescent to deliquescent (autodigesting) fruiting bodies in the mushroom family Psathyrellaceae. Our results show that switches in the anatomy of two types of spacer cells (cystidia and pseudoparaphyses) and basidia (bimorphic or monomorphic) as well as the structure of the mushroom cap follow the evolution of deliquescent fruiting bodies, which suggests strong functional linkage between these traits. We performed Bayes factor-based tests, referred hereafter to as evolutionary pathway test (EPT), to decide which of the correlated characters were gained first during evolution. The EPTs strongly suggest that deliquescence was gained first, followed after short waiting times by the other morphological features. Bayesian relaxed molecular clock analyses suggest that the various events of switching between fruiting body types occurred independently at various ages during the history of the family. The utility of two mushroom fossils (Archaemarasmius and Protomycena), the only ones with unambiguous taxonomic positions, for the calibration of agaric trees were also examined. Based on our results, we suggest that the evolutionary benefit of deliquescence may be prevention against desiccation via accelerated ontogeny of the fruiting body. Hypotheses regarding the functional significance of the correlated evolution are presented and discussed. Further, we argue that the changes in fruiting body types in mushrooms in general can be attributed to independent events (e.g., dispersal and adaptation) and not to particular geologic ages.


László G Nagy, Grit Walther, Judit Házi, Csaba Vágvölgyi, Tamás Papp. Understanding the evolutionary processes of fungal fruiting bodies: correlated evolution and divergence times in the Psathyrellaceae. Systematic biology. 2011 May;60(3):303-17

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PMID: 21368323

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