Scientists have discovered the oldest forest in the fossil record at a quarry in the Catskill region of New York. These primordial woods flourished 386 million years ago, during the Devonian period, and contained at least three types of tree, one of which represents a “quantum leap” in plant evolution, according to a study published on Thursday in Current Biology.
The discovery pushes the empirical timeline of forests back millions of years, which has implications for understanding how these trees sparked an “energetic revolution,” meaning that their energy-efficient adaptations reshaped global ecosystems and climate, the authors said.
“The origin of big trees and forests seems to be coincident in time with some dramatic changes in the Devonian ecosystem and climate,” said lead author William Stein, an emeritus professor of biology at Binghamton University, in a call.
“In particular, there’s been pretty clear evidence that there was a drawdown of CO2 levels from the atmosphere during this time,” causing global cooling, he added. “This is important because we’re, in a sense, looking at the opposite trending effects currently with people, deforestation, and global warming.”
The root systems of this Devonian forest are preserved in an abandoned sandstone quarry near Cairo, New York. Though the site has been known for plant fossils since the 1960s, the new specimens were found within the last decade, and may have become noticeable due to years of weathering.
Aerial view of the root systems. Image: William Stein and Christopher Berry
Stein and his colleagues think the fossils represent three ancient tree families: Archaeopteris, Eospermatopteris, and an unidentified species that may have been a type of vascular plant called a lycopsid.
Eospermatopteris, which looked a little like a modern palm tree, was also found at the next oldest fossilized forest, located about 30 miles away in Gilboa, New York. But the real star of the study is Archaeopteris, because it “strikingly advanced for its time” and likely represents “the beginning of the future of modern forests,” Stein said.
“This was a large plant that had modern-looking secondary tissues—basically wood—and it was the first major player that we understand actually had leaves,” he explained. “It’s essentially identical to what you would expect to see today in modern conifers or flowering and seed plants as a whole.”
Unlike Eospermatopteris, which wasn’t able to penetrate very far into the soil with its roots, Archaeopteris grew specialized structural roots that expanded both laterally along the surface of the soil, and deep underground. This robust network could tap into more resources than Archaeopteris’ rivals, and that may explain why it evolved to be such an efficient and innovative photosynthesizer.
Though the Cairo site is a few million years older than Gilboa, Stein said that he shies away from calling it “the oldest forest” because the two sites may have represented one long-lived and relatively stable biome. “That’s our hypothesis: that they probably are just different ecological snapshots of the same longstanding forest,” he said.
Based on the patterns of the sediment, the Gilboa site was likely located in a river system that frequently experienced catastrophic floods, whereas the Cairo area seems to have been drier and less chaotic. Still, the remains of fish inside Cairo’s fossilized forest suggest that it did sometimes flood. These events may have been damaging to the woods at the time, but the sediment upheaval produced by them helped preserve these fascinating fossils.
Stein hopes that future exploration of the Catskills will reveal more clues about the first forests to emerge on Earth, and the role they played in reshaping our planet’s climate and ecology.
“We only have a sample of two sites like this,” he said, “so it leaves a lot to be done in terms of trying to figure out what actually did go on.”
This article originally appeared on VICE US.
VIDEO: Why Nova Scotia health officials are testing for COVID-19 in a community that's largely been spared from the virus – TheChronicleHerald.ca
Over the weekend of Jan. 16-17, people in the Bridgewater, N.S. area were offered rapid COVID-19 testing for the first time since the province introduced the process last fall.
In the video above, Dr. John Ross speaks to SaltWire’s Sheldon MacLeod about why Nova Scotia health officials are looking for the virus in a community that has been mostly free of infections, even during the height of the outbreaks in the province.
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Mary Jane Clinkard suffers from a neuromuscular disability that requires her to exercise to maintain her strength, but with municipal pools under lockdown since Boxing Day, she hasn’t been able to do that.
Now her muscles feel weak, stiff and painful, and her independence is in jeopardy. The 50-year-old fears she’ll need a personal support worker to get in and out of her wheelchair if she can’t get back into the water soon.
Clinkard, who has hypotonia, told CBC’s Ottawa Morning it’s especially disheartening when she hears others talking about the activities they’re able to do during the lockdown.
“I get really, really frustrated when I hear, ‘We all go skating or go skiing,’ and I’m like, ‘Well, I can’t do either of those,'” Clinkard said.
Once the pools reopened in July, it took Clinkard months of swimming three times a week to get back into shape. Then Ontario entered another lockdown.
The Sandy Hill woman would like to see swimming pools deemed essential, and said she’s not the only one who depends on them for her health.
“There are other people who cannot walk, who cannot ski, cannot skate,” she said.
According to Dan Chenier, the city’s general manager of recreation, cultural and facility services, the provincial restrictions currently in place don’t allow exemptions for people wishing to use indoor municipal facilities for physical therapy or rehabilitation.
“Provincial authorities have been made aware of the request for an exemption for […] these services and the City will be monitoring the revised regulations for any changes,” Chenier said in an emailed statement.
When am I going to be back in the water? When am I going to be able to swim again?– Mary Jane Clinkard
According to the office of Sylvia Jones, Ontario’s solicitor general, the second wave of COVID-19 poses a serious threat to the province’s most vulnerable.
“The single most important thing Ontarians can do right now to protect our most vulnerable is to stay at home,” wrote Stephen Warner, Jones’s press secretary and issues manager. “As we continue our vaccine rollout, this is our best defense against this virus.”
According to Warner, municipalities don’t have the power to ease restrictions put in place under the province’s lockdown.
Restrictions ‘frustrating and difficult’
Under the stay-at-home order, only “exercising, including walking or moving around outdoors using an assistive mobility device, or using an outdoor recreational amenity” are allowed.
Coun. Matt Luloff, who represents Orléans and sits on the city’s community and protective services committee, called that lack of flexibility “frustrating and difficult.”
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On Monday, Luloff told Ottawa Morning if exemptions can be made for NHL players, then people who rely on certain facilities for their health and well-being should be granted similar leeway.
“We can say to one group of people that it’s fine to … bubble and to provide entertainment for us,” he told Ottawa Morning on Monday. “But when there’s a real need, a real physical [or] mental health need, that’s just not as important as getting to see the Sens play.”
“Maybe if the city doesn’t feel comfortable opening people pools for everybody, they can open one pool for people who really need it,” Clinkard suggested. “When am I going to be back in the water? When am I going to be able to swim again?”
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