A forest is a large area of land densely covered with trees and undergrowth. It is a natural ecosystem consisting of a variety of plant and animal species, each playing essential roles in the forest's ecological balance.
In December of 2019 the world’s oldest known forest was discovered in a sandstone quarry in Cairo, New York. Binghamton University describes Cairo Fossil Forest as the world's oldest forest. Guinness World Records declares it as the oldest fossilized forest. One Tree Planted recognizes it as the planet's oldest forest.
The town of Cairo currently owns the land. This forest dates back 386 million years. It is 2 to 3 million years older than a forest discovered in Gilboa, New York (previously believed to be the oldest). It is now officially the oldest forest in America and the world. The New York site joins more far-flung locales such as the Amazon rain forest and Japan’s Yakushima Forest in an elite group of old growth forests.
This world’s oldest forest spreads from New York all the way into Pennsylvania and beyond. Scientists found three types of ancient trees, with what they called “surprisingly modern root systems.” The first type found was Cladoxylopsids, primitive tree-fern-like plants, lacked flat green leaves, and grew in vast numbers at Gilboa. The second was Archaeopteris which had a conifer-like woody trunk and frond-like branches which had green flattened leaves. And a single example of a third type of tree was also uncovered, which remained unidentified but could possibly have been a lycopod, the researchers said.
The Cairo Fossil Forest is not a place where no animals live. Instead, it is likely inhabited by millipedes and other insects. “It’s funny to think about a forest without big animals,” Chris Berry, a paleontologist at Cardiff University and a co-author of the new study. Researchers from SUNY Binghamton and the University of Cardiff in Wales, were excited to find evidence of extremely early plants — some that would have “even been seen by dinosaurs.
All these trees reproduced using only spores rather than seeds. It is these long-lived woody roots, with multiple levels of branching and small, short-lived perpendicular feeder roots, that transformed the interactions of plants and soils, the researchers said. Analysis of these trees suggests our world’s transition toward forests as we know them today began several million years earlier than formerly believed.
The study research team included William Stein, emeritus professor of biological sciences at Binghamton University; and Christopher Berry, a paleobotanist at Cardiff University in the United Kingdom. "The Cairo site is very special," said team member Christopher Berry. They published their findings in the peer-reviewed journal Current Biology.
The origin of trees and forests in the Mid Devonian Period was a turning point in Earth history. It marks permanent changes to ecology, carbon dioxide levels, and climate. The fossilized advanced root system is comparable to modern seed plants and suggests a unique ecological role. It is believed that a flood killed most of the trees in the forest and preserved the root system as fossils.
This discovery is considered a turning point in the history of the formation of life on the planet. When old trees develop clusters of roots like these, they consume them to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and lock it in. Through New York State Senator Michelle Hinchey, the town received a $170,000 grant to construct specialized fencing around the property, supported by concrete barriers to protect America's oldest forest.
*Fun Fact: The United States has the fourth largest forest estate in the world, including about 8 percent of the world's forests.
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