The Lost World Of New York: Another Ancient Forest Reconstruction

March 1 cover of Nature magazine. The image is an artistic reconstruction of what a 390 million year old forest preserved in a New York quarry would have looked like.

A quick note about another report of a fossilized forest that has been described.   Last week it was PNAS that had the big story of a the “Permian Pompeii,” a fossil forest reconstructed in China which I discussed in a previous post (An Ancient and Alien Forest Reconstructed).   Not more than a week later the magazine “Nature” is highlighting the description of a another reconstructed forest. This time a forest from the floor of a quarry in New York state.   Although fossil stumps of trees were discovered at this site in the 1920 it wasn’t until 2010 that the ability to remove debris and map the floor of the quarry was available.   The result is  detailed map of the position and size of all the tree stumps of an ancient forest including stems that grew along the ground with prop roots attached to other stems.  More than 1200 square meters of preserved forest was mapped.

This picture on the front cover shows an artist conception of what these trees would have looked like based on the preserved stems and leaf-life foliage.   The figure below is the map they produced of the locations and sizes of the various type of trees were found demonstrating, just like at the Chines site, that there was a complex and diverse set of trees that were spaced out in ways that resemble modern forests with tall trees, smaller trees and some understory plants.   Clearly, this was a forest that was preserved in place and so the community of this forest is captured by this location.  Significantly, to the challenge of the post, like the Chinese site, NONE of these plants are flowering plants and even many of the plants that looks similar to today’s tree-ferns are not present and so this forest seems even more alien to the modern eye that that of the fossil forest from China.

Figure from the research paper in Nature describing the fossil forest. The circles represent tree bases with different shaded circles representing different types of trees. The black/gray circles represent the Eospermopteris trees that have been found in other places in the world in rocks of the same age (385-390 million years). The area inside the black ring is the diameter of the trunk with the outer ring indicating the extent of the roots.

Here are a couple of pictures of the most common tree type at this location.  Pictured is an actual 5 meter long near-complete fossil of an Eospermopteris tree with its reconstruction.
Reference:  Stein, W.E., C. M. Berry, L. Hernick, and F. Mannolini.  2012.   “Surprisingly complex community discovered in the mid-Devonian fossil forest at Gilboa.  Nature Vol 283: 78-81.

The fosilized base of an Eospermopteris tree showing the typical flaired base similar to some trees in swampy habitats today.
From Nature in 2007 - A near complete Eospermopteris fossil with detail and reconstruction. Click in image for much larger version.

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