In New York wurde der älteste Wald der Welt entdeckt - NIKIN EU

The world's oldest forest has been discovered in New York

Is New York the first place you think of when you think of ancient forests? From now on, because a fossil of the oldest forest on earth was recently discovered in an abandoned quarry in Cairo, New York.

Is New York the first place you think of when you think of ancient forests? From now on, because a fossil of the oldest forest on earth was recently discovered in an abandoned quarry in Cairo, New York.

Forest in New York

Source: Charles ver Straeten

It is believed that the forest is around 386 million years old, several million years older than the oldest known forest, which, interestingly, can also be found in New York.

Why is this discovery important?

It suggests that modern plants evolved earlier than previously thought and therefore had a longer-lasting impact on Earth's climate and ecology. Scientists are incredibly meticulous when it comes to reconstructing history from Earth's fossil record, but this is only the third forest from the middle Devonian period, and the new discovery means some Paleozoic timelines need to be updated.

A walk along the prehistoric memory lane

Finding well-preserved fossils from long-ago root systems is essentially the holy grail of being a paleobotanist, but the real appeal for the everyday nature lover is the opportunity to look back and marvel at how our terrestrial world came to be - and how important trees were in this origin story. 

We all know that life on Earth began in the sea, and the same goes for plants. The first plants began to colonize the land about 430 million years ago, but it took time for them to evolve and become complex. Things like the development of vascular tissue, roots, and the ability to reproduce through seeds were the crucial steps of evolution, not only for the development of what we know as trees today, but also for the creation of soil and simultaneous evolution of insects, vertebrates and other organisms that depended on these plants.

Biological diversity not only appeared fully formed in some great entrance of creation, but happened very slowly over millions of years, literally starting from single cells and learning to become something larger in a tiny step (see also the diagram below from bottom to top to trace the evolution of plants).

 

Plant Evolution

Source: OneTreePlanted

The evolutionary cradle of the Devonian and Carboniferous periods

The newly discovered fossil forest dates to the Middle Devonian period, which lasted 416 million to 358 million years ago, and is the fourth period of the Paleozoic Era. It came before the better-known Carboniferous period, in which huge trees and forests dominated the landscape, increasing atmospheric oxygen from 21% to 35% (which also gave rise to large insects and amphibians), while simultaneously reducing and sequestering large amounts of carbon to produce the coal that we have been using as fuel ever since.

The lesser-known but essential precursor to all of these climate-changing forests, the Devonian, is the time when plants truly began to form Earth's first forests, consisting of lycophytes, horsetails and ferns. Archaeopteris, also known as the first successful trees, finally evolved in the Devonian - with a softwood trunk on which successive rings grew. The new fossils show that Archaeopteris evolved about 2-3 million years earlier than previously thought and therefore had a longer impact on Earth's ecology, geochemical cycles and atmosphere. 

Another specimen of the new discovery is still a bit unclear, but scientists believe it may belong to the clubmoss family - the direct ancestors of all these carbon-sucking trees of the Carboniferous.

What we know about the jungle is that there were no birds or large animals yet, only primitive insects, and that the trees had fern-like fronds instead of leaves or needles, which gave them a hair-like appearance.

Fossil Forest

Fossil roots from Cairo, New York. Source: William Stein & Christopher Berry

The value of today's 360° perspective

A few million years may not seem like much in the grand scheme of Earth's history, but it is very significant in how scientists explain the evolution of trees and their long-term impact on our world. It means that the environmental changes that occurred were the result of a longer, slower process. 

There is still more to learn for anyone who enjoys studying trees, but we now have the privilege of millions of years of collective science and data that speak loud and clear about the most important point here: our planet is extraordinary , and plants are the key to life! We also know that humans can and do impact the biosphere and that an abundance of trees can cool the atmosphere.

Reforestation does not replace the need to reduce the burning of fossil fuels, but it can definitely have a positive and balancing effect on our climate, so plant a tree today to make a positive impact.

 

© This blog was researched, written and published by our partner organization OneTreePlanted. The content was adopted and translated by NIKIN. The blog may contain some differences from the original. You can find the original blog and further information at www.onetreeplanted.org. We have been working with the renowned non-profit organization since 2016 - so far we have been able to plant over 450,000 trees in various places around the world.

 

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