By Robert Titus
Visitors to the Mountaintop Arboretum get to wander through our modern temperate forest and it is a wonderful experience. But we should all appreciate that there have been forests right here continuously for almost 400 million years. Throughout all that time forest ecology has been evolving into what we see today. But, if we can imagine ourselves returning back all those millions of years we would find ourselves in one of the world’s oldest forests: known to geologists as the Gilboa Forest. The fossils of this ancient ecology are preserved in many Catskill rock sequences. The trees of Gilboa were, not surprisingly, very primitive. They go by names such as lycopsids and psueudosporochnaleans. They lacked proper leaves, had no fruit or seeds and were poorly rooted as well; we might hardly recognize them as even being trees.
Our modern forests would require a lot of evolution and all that was starting out right here.
The animals in the surrounding ecologies were in many ways surprisingly familiar. We would quickly find centipedes, millipedes, primitive insects and even spiders in these old woods. But again, this was a pioneering ecology; life was literally trying out its legs on the dry land.
All this is our earliest and best view of pioneering forest ecology and that makes it of enormous importance. What we can learn here is far more important than what can be found at any dinosaur site. Right here is where forest ecology began!
image by Artist Kristen Wyckoff website)