Early Forest Soils and Their Role in Devonian Global Change

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Science  25 Apr 1997:
Vol. 276, Issue 5312, pp. 583-585
DOI: 10.1126/science.276.5312.583

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A paleosol in the Middle Devonian Aztec Siltstone of Victoria Land, Antarctica, is the most ancient known soil of well-drained forest ecosystems. Clay enrichment and chemical weathering of subsurface horizons in this and other Devonian forested paleosols culminate a long-term increase initiated during the Silurian. From Silurian into Devonian time, red clayey calcareous paleosols show a greater volume of roots and a concomitant decline in the density of animal burrows. These trends parallel the decline in atmospheric carbon dioxide determined from isotopic records of pedogenic carbonate in these same paleosols. The drawdown of carbon dioxide began well before the Devonian appearance of coals, large logs, and diverse terrestrial plants and animals, and it did not correlate with temporal variation in volcanic or metamorphic activity. The early Paleozoic greenhouse may have been curbed by the evolution of rhizospheres with an increased ratio of primary to secondary production and by more effective silicate weathering during Silurian time.

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