April 20, 2024

Beautifully Preserved Forest of Fossils Uncovered in Japan : ScienceAlert

A beautifully preserved fossil forest on a riverbank in Japan has been described in detail for the first time.

The rare site takes scientists a step closer to reconstructing the entire Eurasian plant from the late Miocene era, and fills in one of the many gaps in botany. The Tree of Life.

The IS Late Miocene Spanning from about 10.4 to 5 million years ago, the forest was located under what is now the Kiso River, northeast of Nagoya.

The location of the study site in Japan (Nishino et al., Scientific Reports2023)

The forest was first seen today during a severe drought in 1994when about 400 fossilized tree stumps emerged from the water.

Most of the stumps have since been submerged again, but researchers managed to examine 137 of them, and the surrounding fossil leaves.

They have now published their analysis of the site and provided a picture of the plants that once covered the wooded area.

Exposed river bed
The exposed river bed where the fossil forest was found. (Toshihiro Yamada)

To understand why this is so cool, you need to know that it is extremely rare to find plant fossils in one piece.

Unlike animals, one part of the plant, be it the seed, leaf or fruit, usually separates over its lifetime, so fossils are rarely found together.

As a result, when talking about plant fossils, scientists call all the organs – leaves, fruits or trunks – different scientific nameseven if they are part of the same species.

It is then a challenge to put the different trunks and leaves together and work out which one belongs to which.

This forest offers a rare opportunity as it is clear that one type of trunk and one type of leaf was dominant in the area. Of the 137 stumps examined, 130 were identified as Wallpaper.

The wonders of tree rings
Wallpaper showing annual rings. (Nishino et al., Scientific Reports2023)

“Wataria is a woody fossil, recognized by its distinctive growth rings, abundant parenchyma rays and lack of resin canals,” says the lead researcher, biologist Toshihiro Yamada from Hokkaido University.

“In the 2,000 m2 [21,500 square foot] fossil site, these stumps made up 95 percent of the tree remains, indicating that we have discovered a forest of this species for the most part.”

The largest fossilized trunk found was 137 cm (54 inches) in diameter – shown in the image below under number 1.

Fossil trucks
The largest fossil stock found at the site. (Nishino et al., Scientific Reports2023)

Most of the surrounding leaves were removed Byttneriophyllum tilifolium, which has a leaf-fossil species associated with the Malvaceae or Mallow familyand is related to modern plants such as cotton, cacao, and okra.

Fossil leaf
Surface view of the fossil leaf Byttneriophyllum tilifolium. (Nishino et al., Scientific Reports2023)

Fossils of this leaf have been found across Eurasia dating back to the Miocene and Pliocene periods, but it is not clear which stock they belong to.

Now we may have our answer.

“We found that 98 percent of the fossil leaves found at the site belonged to Bytneriophyllumstrongly indicating that they were lost from the parent trees,” says Yamada.

“We could see that the leaves were deposited parautochthonously on the forest floor – they found a fossil where they fell.”

Previous research links fossil results, Giant Banisteriacarpum to B. tilifolium leaves; Future research will focus on tracing the fruit in Japan, as this could link the stem, fruit and leaf together as a whole plant.

The research is published in Scientific Reports.

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