Quantitative analysis of Pennsylvanian coal-swamp vegetation provides a means of inferring organization and structure of communities. Distribution of these communities further provides inferences about environmental factors, including paleoclimate. Our observations are based on in situ, structurally preserved peat deposits in coal-ball concretions from 32 coal seams in the eastern one-half of the United States and from several seams in western Europe and on spore assemblages from more than 150 seams. There were three times of particularly significant and nearly synchronous vegetational changes in the Midcontinent and Appalachian coal regions during the Pennsylvanian Period. Each was different in kind and magnitude. The first marked changes occurred during the early part of the Middle Pennsylvanian with the fluctuating decline in the high level of lycopod dominance. The abundance of cordaites increased. There was a rise in the occurrences of the lycopod herbs to form intercalated marshlands and an overall increase in floral diversity. Changes ensuing from this time also include shifts in dominant species of lycopod trees and a sustained rise in abundance and diversity of tree-fern spores. The next significant time of change was during the middle part of the Middle Pennsylvanian, representing both a culmination of earlier trends and expansions of cordaites in the Midcontinent where there was a maximum change in species without net loss of diversity. Tree ferns and medullosan pteridosperms attained subdominant levels of abundance and diverse lycopod species dominated except in the Atokan-Desmoinesian transition of the Midcontinent. The third and sharpest break occurred near the Middle-Late Pennsylvanian boundary when extinctionsof the dominant, coal-swamp lycopods allowed development of tree-fern dominance. The Late Pennsylvanian coal swamps apparently were colonized or recolonized mainly by species from outside coal swamps rather than by the survivor populations of the Middle Pennsylvanian swamps. Paralleling the changes in floras through the Pennsylvanian are changes in preservational aspects of the peat. These include a decline in shoot/root ratios from approximately 1 to < 1 during the first time of vegetational changes and a rise in this ratio during the second; there was a parallel rise and fall in fusain abundance and a rise in wood/periderm ratios. The stratigraphic distribution of identified coal resources in the United States is interpreted as largely dependent on net changes in relative wetness of Pennsylvanian coal swamps, a pattern of drying during the first period of vegetational change, followed by a concomitant increase in continuous wet climate with brackish influence in the Midcontinent during the second; this was followed by a time of extreme moisture stress bringing on the third, and most severe, vegetational change. ?? 1986.
Additional publication details
Stratigraphic and interregional changes in Pennsylvanian coal-swamp vegetation: Environmental inferences