New species are turning up in the UK frequently. In 2018 alone, it was reported that 10 shark species were moving into UK waters as temperatures rose, a new species of micro-moth is found every year due to the horticultural trade and the successful conservation of wildlife sites has enabled a new jumping spider to inhabit Cheshire.
The other great source of new species in the UK come from fossil discoveries. Whether they be worms or giant marine reptiles, every discovery tells us something new about past environments, biodiversity, evolution, climate and ecology. In 2018 we published three new species of fossil fungi that are around 12 million years old.
We have been exploring the old sand quarries of Derbyshire for a number of years to better understand the climate and biodiversity of the UK 12 million years ago. Most of the fossils we are looking for are microscopic and require strong acids to dissolve the clay and sand, before we can analyse them under the microscope.
The fossil plant remains have already shown that the UK was subtropical 12 million years ago and supported plants that no longer grow here naturally (Hickory, Japanese umbrella-pine and Chinese rubber tree as three examples). Whilst we were investigating the plant remains we started to see fungal fragments as well.
Relatively quickly, we started to realise that some of them were new. So we measured and described before naming Rhexoampullifera stogieana (named for its cigar like shape), Rhexoampullifera sufflata (the species name refers to the swollen appearance of the fossil) and Chaetosphaeria elsikii (named in honour of the late William Elsik). All three species lived by decomposing wood and would have formed an important component of the carbon cycle in these 12 million year old subtropical British forests.
The Middle to Late Miocene Brassington Formation from the Peak District in Derbyshire, central UK, has yielded a diverse vegetation assemblage, but until now there have been no reports of fungal remains. Here, we describe three new species of fossil fungal palynomorphs from the Kenslow Member of the Brassington Formation. The taxa have been assigned to the Chaetosphaeriaceae and Pyrenulales, and were most likely saprophytic members of the community. The extant living relatives of the new fossil fungi are commonly found on decaying wood, often submerged in freshwater. A saprobic ecology on submerged decaying wood is consistent with sedimentological evidence that shows the Kenslow Member was deposited in a lacustrine or wetland environment. This is the first reported occurrence of the genus Rhexoampullifera in the fossil record.