Scientists made a stunning discovery in eastern China – they managed to discover the huge petrified forest of the Devonian period, in which one of the first trees of the Earth grew. Photos and descriptions of this find were published in the journal Current Biology.
“The high density and small growth of these trees makes the Xinhan forest something similar to modern sugarcane fields, except that the plants there were concentrated in small groves. At the same time, they were similar to the mangroves that grow in similar environment and played the same ecological role, “says Deming Wang (Deming Wang) from the University of Beijing (China).
According to scientists today, the first trees appeared in the middle of the Devonian period, about 400 million years ago. Their appearance dramatically changed the face of the entire planet – the first land plants made it “green”, and also spawned many new species of living creatures, including land insects and fungi that feed exclusively on plant biomass.
The way these first trees looked, remains a mystery to scientists. Paleontologists often find fossilized fragments of tree trunks and roots, imprints of their leaves, pollen inside drops of amber and other plant remains. Full-fledged ecosystems – the so-called fossilized forests – are extremely rare, and each such find becomes of great value to paleoecologists.
American and British paleontologists have been able to restore the appearance of the “oldest petrified forest,” which was “frozen” in time about 390 million years ago on the site of the modern North American state of New York, according to an article published in the journal Nature.
One of the latest discoveries of this kind happened in February 2012, when Chinese and American researchers restored the appearance of the Devonian forest, discovered in the town of Gilboa in the eastern United States at the beginning of the last century. It was “mothballed” in the thickness of the ashes from the eruption of a prehistoric volcano, which occurred about 380 million years ago in the territory of modern state of New York.
Wang and his team made another such amazing discovery, discovering a splendidly preserved pristine ancient forest, whose area is about three dozen football fields. They found traces of its existence, conducting excavations in the vicinity of Xinhan, located two hundred kilometers west of Shanghai.
Here, as the paleontologist notes, in the past there was a quarry where high-quality clay was extracted for the production of ceramics. After its reserves were exhausted, geologists and paleontologists began to study the excavation, discovering that industrial work exposed deposits from the first half of the Devonian period.
Petrified trunk of an ancient tree found in an clay quarry in eastern China
Studying the stone blocks that fell from the walls of the quarry, Van and his colleagues came across extremely unusual fossils – whole trunks of ancient trees, similar in appearance to modern plunders, midwives and ancient plants from the genus Stigmaria, claiming to be the oldest representatives of the terrestrial flora of the Earth.
Scientists continued to excavate, and almost immediately found dozens of other tree trunks, some of which were felled, while others were petrified in the form in which they grew. Apparently, they suffered the same fate as a slightly later forest from New York.
Interestingly, the appearance of these ancient thickets was noticeably different from how their American “descendants” looked. The trees in the Xinhang forest looked more like palm trees than other plants. They did not have branches, and their tops were covered with a mop of “leaves”, photosynthetic scales of the bark, as well as spore-bearing “ears” similar to reeds or corn.
The growth of these trees, which received the name Guangdedendron micrum, was relatively small – on average, it did not exceed three meters. The forest itself, as scientists suggest, relying on the structure of the roots of ancient plunders, grew near the coast of the sea or lake and was periodically flooded with their waters.
The small size of the Devonian flora was offset by its multiplicity. According to Wang’s current estimates, 38 such “palm trees” grew on each square meter, which is ten times higher than the density of the “population” in the forests of the Carboniferous period.
This may be due to the fact that their disputes were not carried by the wind, but simply fell down, under the roots of the mother plant, together with a giant “ears”.
The relatively developed roots of these plants, as well as the high density of these forests, according to paleontologists, suggest that scientists today underestimate the role that the flora of the Devonian period could play in cooling the climate at the end of the Paleozoic era, when the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere dropped sharply, and glaciers reached modern tropical latitudes.