Fossilized forest dating to the Devonian period discovered in England

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Scientists have discovered fossilized evidence of the world’s oldest known forest atop remote cliffs in England, researchers announced late last month, offering insight into how plants grew hundreds of millions of years ago.

Writing In the Journal of the Geological Society, researchers describe the discovery of a fossilized forest that they say marks a moment in biology that would “forever change” the planet.

They discovered evidence of the forest atop cliffs on the south side of the Bristol Channel, an inlet of the Atlantic separating England and Wales. The sandstone cliffs, the tallest in England, were long overlooked by paleobotanists, researchers write, but they turn out to be home to the world’s oldest fossilized forest, predating the previous record holder by 4 million years.

The fossils are about 390 million years old and date back to the Devonian period. Although it is often called the “age of fish” because it coincided with a boom in marine life in the oceans that covered most of the planet, the period also marked the development of the first forests.

The fossilized plants were very different from modern ones. “This was a pretty strange forest,” Neil Davies, professor of sedimentary geology at the University of Cambridge and first author of the study, said in a statement. Press release. “There were no notable undergrowth and grass had not yet appeared, but these densely packed trees shed many twigs, which had a great effect on the landscape.”

The trees, known as calamophyton, They were shorter than modern trees and had thin, hollow trunks and no leaves, only twig-like growths which they then shed. As the trees grew, they helped shape the world around them. Their root structures stabilized the soil, the researchers write, making it more resistant to flooding. And debris dumped as forests grew created new habitats for animals, distributed nutrients, and helped shape the landscape.

The fossils preserve an important stage in Earth’s development, Davies says in the statement, and serve as a reminder of how important it is to continue searching for evidence of Earth’s plant past, even in areas once considered insignificant.

“Sometimes people think that British rocks have been examined enough,” says Davies, “but this shows that revisiting them can produce important new discoveries.”

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