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Floor of world’s oldest forest uncovered

March 1, 2012 by  

BINGHAMTON, N.Y., March 1 (UPI) — The floor of the world’s oldest forest, dating from 385 million years ago, has been discovered in a New York county, researchers say.

The finding in Schoharie County could shed new light on the role of modern-day forests and their impact on climate change, they said.

“It was like discovering the botanical equivalent of dinosaur footprints,” researcher William Stein, professor of biological sciences at Binghamton University, said.

“But the most exciting part was finding out just how many different types of footprints there were. The newly uncovered area was preserved in such a way that we were literally able to walk among the trees, noting what kind they were, where they had stood and how big they had grown.”

The prehistoric trees resembled modern-day cycads or tree ferns, but questions had remained about what the surrounding area looked like, whether other plant life co-existed with these trees and how, the researchers wrote in the journal Nature.

In 2010, researchers found a large, substantially intact portion of the ancient forest horizon, complete with root systems, which suggested the area probably enjoyed a wetland environment in a tropical climate.

“The complexity of the … site can teach us a lot about the original assembly of our modern day ecosystems,” Stein said.

“As we continue to understand the role of forests in modern global systems, and face potential climate change and deforestation on a global scale, these clues from the past may offer valuable lessons for managing our planet’s future.”

Spencer Cameron

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