April 15, 2024

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A petrified forest dating back to the Devonian period was discovered in England

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

writing In the Journal of the Geological Society, researchers describe the discovery of a petrified forest that they say represents a moment in biology that will “change” the planet forever.

They discovered evidence of the forest above the cliffs on the south side of the Bristol Channel, the Atlantic inlet separating England and Wales. The sandstone cliffs, the highest in England, have long been overlooked by paleobotanists, but have turned out to be home to the world's oldest petrified forest, which predates the previous record holder by 4 million years, researchers write.

The fossils are about 390 million years old, dating back to the Devonian period. Although it is often called the “Age of Fishes” because it coincided with the flowering of marine life in the oceans that covered most of the planet, this period also saw the development of the first forests.

Fossilized plants were very different from modern plants. “This was a very strange forest,” said Neil Davies, lecturer in sedimentary geology at the University of Cambridge and first author of the study. New release. “There hasn't been any growth to speak of and the grass hasn't appeared yet, but there have been a lot of branches that have fallen near these dense trees, which has had a huge impact on the landscape.”

Trees known as calamophyton, They were shorter than modern trees, and their trunks were thin and hollow and contained no leaves, just twig-like growths that later fell off. As trees grew, they helped shape the world around them. Their root structures stabilized the soil, making it more resilient to flooding, the researchers wrote. Debris falling as forests grew created new animal habitats, distributed nutrients, and helped shape the landscape.

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The fossils preserve an important stage in Earth's evolution, Davies says in the release — and serve as a reminder of how important it is to continue searching for evidence of Earth's plant past, even in areas previously considered unimportant.

“People sometimes think that British rocks have been under-examined, but this shows that revisiting them can lead to important new discoveries,” says Davies.