Asia's oldest fossil forest discovered

370 million years old forest of tree-like rambelly covers 25 hectares

For example, the forest of bearded plants now discovered in China may have looked 360 million years ago. © Zhenzhen Deng
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Spectacular find: In China, paleontologists have discovered the oldest fossil forest in Asia - and the world's largest forest from the Devonian era. Because the fossilized remains of tree-like Bärlappgewächse extend over more than 25 hectares, as the researchers report in the journal "Current Biology". These plants created the first forests of the earth and formed later in the Carbon Age the basis for the hard coal origin.

In the Devonian period of 410 to 359 million years ago, life first conquered the land areas of the earth to a greater extent for the first time. After the invertebrates now also the first vertebrates experienced their shore leave. The terrestrial flora evolved in the Devonian from the previously only in marshes spread, small plants to up to 15 meters tall tree-like plants. Above all, the early relatives of the today's Bärlappgewächse formed in this time the first forests of the earth.

Three fossilized trunks in a demolition wall of the quarry. © Deming Wang and Le Liu

Petrified tree relics in the quarry

Deming Wang from the University of Beijing and his colleagues in southeast China have now discovered the largest forest in the Devon. In two quarries near the city of Xinhang, they came across dozens of fossilized remains of tree-like bear's lobe plants - the remains of a fossil forest. "We found numerous upright lycop- tides found on the vertical quarry walls or in fallen-down blocks, " the researchers report.

In addition to the tribe-like relics numerous roots, leaves and cones with megaspores were preserved. The next analysis showed that these crops were a previously unknown species of early rape crops. The palaeontologists baptized them after the district of the locality of Guangdedendron. The dating showed that these fossils date from the time 372 to 359 million years ago and thus from the late Devon.

Up to 7.70 meters high

The rambelts had a largely unbranched stem covered with narrow, permeable leaves. Older, larger specimens parted at the top into several conical spouts. Their size ranged from a good one meter up to 7.70 meters high specimens. However, most of these plants were only about three feet high, as the researchers report. display

These tree-like fossils formed a partially relatively dense forest, which consisted only of this one species. "The large density and small size of the trees make the Xinhang forest look similar to a sugar cane field today, " Wang explains. "However, the plants were distributed more irregularly in this forest."

Big forest relic from the Devonian

However, the special feature: This prehistoric forest extended over an unusually large area. From the distribution of finds across two stone quarries, researchers conclude that this forest once covered at least 25 hectares 250, 000 square meters. This makes it the world's largest forest from the Devonian era. The other two known Devon forests are a 1, 200 square meter coniferous conifer in New York and a mere 14 square meters of ramshorn forest on Spitsbergen.

Petrified roots of the B rlappgew chse. Deming Wang and Le Liu

Another special feature is the roots of these fossils, as they represent the oldest known example of the root form, which was later to dominate the large coal fields in the Carboniferous. "This forest contributes to a better understanding of the reproduction, growth structure, and development of the root system of the early Bonsai, " Wang and his team say.

Forest grew in a marshy coastal area

Like the coal mines of the Carboniferous, the newly discovered Devon Forest grew in a swampy, tropical-warm area near the former equator. Sandstone deposits and fossilized wave ripples bear witness to the fact that Xinhang's fallow forest has been repeatedly flooded, as the paleontologists report.

"Xinhang's B rlapp forest could have been a good match for today's mangrove forests along the coast, because they grow in a similar environment and play a similar ecological role, " Wang says. (Current Biology, 2019; doi: 10.1016 / j.cub.2019.06.053)

Source: Cell Press

- Nadja Podbregar