Volcanic Rock Reveals Composition of Ancient Forest

U.S. scientists say they were able to reconstruct an ancient tropical forest, including long-extinct plant species, using fossil remains trapped beneath the ash of a volcanic eruption that occurred about 300 million years

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Ancient Forest China

A 300-million-year-old forest
ago in northern China. While palaeoecologists typically can only infer the density and composition of ancient forest ecosystems, researchers say the volcanic ash from the ancient eruption preserved the woodland in situ, a sort of “forest Pompeii” that has revealed a “coal-forming swamp in its prime.” In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from several U.S. universities describe a teeming peat forest ecosystem consisting of six plant groups, including trees resembling feather dusters, vines, and three species of a group known as Noeggerathiales — small, spore-bearing trees that may have been relatives of early ferns. “Many of these plant groups we knew from other places, but we had no idea that they actually grew together,” said Robert Gastaldo, a palaeobotanist at Colby College in Maine and a co-author of the study.