The oldest rainforest on earth discovered

Extensive and well-preserved fossil forest is 300 million years old

Fossilized plant remains from an old coal mine in the US state of Illinois. © Dr. Howard Falcon-Lang
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Scientists have now discovered the world's oldest rainforest in the United States. The 300-million-year-old, well-preserved fossil plant remains give a spectacular insight into an extinct flora and the ecology of time.

Howard Falcon-Lang from the University of Bristol in England, together with American colleagues, discovered the rainforest in an old coal mine in the US state of Illinois. "It was a fascinating experience. We drove in an armored vehicle into the mine to about one hundred meters below the surface, "reports Falcon-Lang. "The fossil forest was rooted on the surface of the coal seam. So where the coal was mined, you could see the forest on the ceiling of the mines. "

As they now report in the journal Geology, the fossils owe their good condition to a major earthquake that occurred 300 million years ago. The quake suddenly caused the subsoil to sink below sea level and the entire forest was buried under mud and thus preserved.

The fossil rainforest is the largest ever found. It covers more than 10, 000 hectares, an area of ​​ten kilometers in each direction. The fossils provide a unique snapshot of a rainforest ecosystem 300 million years ago. It consists of a bizarre mixture of extinct plants: Diverse Bärlappgewächsen - many more than 40 feet high - tower over a layer of tree ferns mixed with shrubs and tree-sized horsetails.

A piece of rainforest of the Carboniferous period

Nowhere else in the world is it possible to literally walk through a piece of the Carboniferous rainforest. "We walked over miles of pitch-black passages along the rainforest right above our heads, " says Falcon-Lang. In their study, the researchers are reconstructing the largest carboniferous carboniferous rainforest ever undertaken. The fossils show that the first rainforests of the earth were very diverse and that the tree species contained in it vary with the landscape. display

"Previously, we knew very little about the environmental preferences and structures of these ancient plants because there was nothing comparable, " explains the scientist. "This discovery, however, allows us to track how the species composition of the forest changes with the landscape and how the composition varies with the environment."

(University of Bristol, 23.04.2007 - NPO)