Gills are one of those evolutionary marvels that tends to independently evolve over and over again in the mycological realm. Gills or lamella, increase the surface area of spore bearing surfaces, which ultimately enhances an individual’s fitness. In a previous Fungi Friday, I talked about how one bolete (Phylloporus rhodoxanthus) reverted to a more ancestral, gilled form. Today, in Forest Floor Narrative’s 100th post, I am revisiting this idea of convergent evolution using a breathtaking, tropical gilled fungus named Lentinus berteroi.
This stunning species has a tropical distribution and can be found throughout Mexico, Central and South America. It’s a widespread saprophyte that exogenously digests dead woody material, sucking up the carbon rich slurry after its enzymes go to town. One quite distinguishing feature is the hair like fuzz covering its cap surface. Though no experiments have been carried out to better understand the function of the fuzz, one can predict that these hairs make it more difficult for invertebrates to feed on the already tough fungal tissue.
The tissue of Lentinus species are quite sturdy, which hints that the gilled fungus is unlike true gilled Agarics. Back in the 18th century, all gilled fungi were placed in the same genus, Agaricus. Though, like the gilled bolete, examining the species genetic makeup shows its distant relatedness to the gilled Order of the Agaricales. After sequencing its genome, Lentinus species have been since placed within the Order Polyporales. Many of its closely related polypore cousins have pores underneath their cap surfaces that spores exit and hitch a ride on rising air currents. However, after millions of years, the ancestors of Lentinus berteroi separately “figured out” this efficient gilled morphology.
Convergent evolution is a fascinating process that really does define the structures that work the best throughout Earth’s ecosystems. When analogous structures evolve again and again in unrelated species, once can admire those specific configurations and realize that they perform more than competently. Designed by natural selection over million and millions of years, gills allow massive clouds of spores to be released by fungi, thereby allowing these alluring forest floor inhabitants to carry out their diverse ecological functions.
I’d just like to take a moment to thank you, the readers. I have received such positive feedback and constructive criticism from this subset of people who are just as intrigued by these interactions as I am. Blogging is by no means an easy task, and requires a ton of discipline on my part, as I spend around 15-20 hours a week putting together these articles. So, it really means a lot when you guys show your appreciation and share your thoughts. Thanks again FFN family! Here’s to another 100 posts!!