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Late Moscovian terrestrial biotas and palaeoenvironments of Variscan Euramerica

  • C.J. Cleal (a1), S. Opluštil (a2), B.A. Thomas (a3), Y. Tenchov (a4), O.A. Abbink (a5), J. Bek (a6), T. Dimitrova (a4), J. Drábková (a7), Ch. Hartkopf-Fröder (a8), T. van Hoof (a5), A. Kędzior (a9), E. Jarzembowski (a10), K. Jasper (a8), M. Libertin (a11), D. McLean (a12), M. Oliwkiewicz-Miklasinska (a9), J. Pšenička (a13), B. Ptak (a14), J.W. Schneider (a15), S. Schultka (a16), Z. Šimůnek (a7), D. Uhl (a17), M.I. Waksmundzka (a18), I. van Waveren (a19) and E. L. Zodrow (a20)...

Abstract

A synthesis of the upper Moscovian sedimentological and palaeontological record of terrestrial habitats across the Variscan foreland and adjacent intramontane basins (an area which is referred to here as Variscan Euramerica) suggests a contraction and progressive westward shift of the coal swamps. These changes can be correlated with pulses of tectonic activity (tectonic phases) resulting from the northwards migration of the Variscan Front. This tectonic activity caused disruption to the landscapes and drainage patterns where the coal swamps were growing, which became less suitable to growth of the dominant plants of the swamps, the arborescent lycopsids. They were progressively replaced by vegetation dominated by marattialean ferns, which through a combination of slower growth and larger canopies resulted in less evapo-transpiration. This in turn caused localised reductions in rainfall, which further affected the ability of the lycopsids to dominate the swamp vegetation. These changes were initially localised and where the coal swamps were able to survive the lycopsids and pteridosperms show little change in either species diversity or biogeography, indicating that at this time there was minimal regional-scale climate change taking place. By Asturian times, however, the process had accelerated and the swamps in Variscan Euramerica became progressively replaced by predominantly conifer and cordaite vegetation that favoured much drier substrates. Except in localised pockets in intramontane basins of the Variscan Mountains, the last development of coal swamps in Variscan Euramerica was of early Cantabrian age. Further west, lycopsid-dominated coal swamps persisted for a little longer. The last remnants of the lycopsid-dominated coal swamps in the Illinois Basin disappeared probably by middle-late Cantabrian times, as the cycle of contracting wetlands and regional reductions in rainfall generated its own momentum, and no longer needed the impetus of tectonic instability. This tectonically-driven decline in the Euramerican coal swamps was probably responsible for an annual increase in atmospheric CO2 of c. 0.37 ppm, and may have been implicated in the marked increase in global temperatures near the Moscovian – Kasimovian boundary, and the onset of the Late Pennsylvanian interglacial.

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