Prehistoric, fossilized Wattieza trees near Gilboa, New York
In the 1870's a forest of fossilized tree trunks and roots was discovered when a quarry was excavated in Schoharie County, New York, near the town of Gilboa in the Catskill Mountains.
They were early trees of the Wattieza genus, so ancient that they predated dinosaurs. However, nothing was known of their appearance except for their trunks because no crowns were preserved in the fossil bed.
When another fossil-rich area was discovered about ten miles from the original find, the state of New York protected it, and researchers from Binghamton University, New York, international research teams, and the New York State Museum have recently been conducting digs there.
Yesterday, Nature reported that the researchers had found:
... spectacular specimens from Schoharie County, New York, showing an intact crown belonging to the cladoxylopsid Wattieza (Pseudosporochnales)8 (sic) and its attachment to Eospermatopteris trunk and base. This evidence allows the reconstruction of a tall (at least 8 m), tree-fern-like plant with a trunk bearing large branches in longitudinal ranks. (Source)
The reconstruction indicates that the branches of the Wattieza trees were similar to giant fern fronds, and the trees would have dropped 200 or more during their lifespan. At any time, the trunk of the tree would have been bare except for a cluster or clump of fronds at the top. The trunks were probably green inside (rather than woody), and it is possible that the trees conducted photosynthesis. (Source)
Dr [Christopher] Berry (of Cardiff [UK] University) said: "This is a spectacular find, which has allowed us to recreate these early forest ecosystems. Branches from the trees would have fallen to the floor and decayed, providing a new food chain for the bugs living below.
"This was also a significant moment in the history of the planet. The rise of the forests removed a lot of Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere. This caused temperatures to drop and the planet became very similar to its present-day condition." (Source)
Some of the tree fossils have trunks over twice as large as the specimen that has been reconstructed, so it seems likely that many of the trees grew much taller than 8 meters (26 feet).
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