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Hardy lichens don’t actually predate plants

Fungus-alga power couples called lichens dominate 7% of Earth’s surface, and scientists have long assumed they evolved before vascular plants, setting the stage for the evolution of the more advanced species. But a new study shows these plantlike partners likely linked up millions of years after ferns and other primitive plants, The New York Times reports. In a study published this week in Geobiology, researchers compared the ages of lichen-forming fungi to vascular plant fossils from 425 million years ago and found that the first lichens evolved some 100 million years later. What’s more, the researchers found that partnerships between fungi and algae probably developed several times in different regions, so the lichen family tree may actually be a lichen family forest.

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