Strata of Westphalian D age on the western coast of the Sydney Basin expose a fossil forest of approximately 30 lepidodendrid trees within one of several clastic splits of the Harbour Seam. A mutidisciplinary approach was employed to interpret the origins of the coal bed, the depositional history of the site and the response of the fossil forest to changing edaphic conditions. The megaspore and miospore records indicate that the mire vegetation was dominated by arboreous lycopsids, especially Paralycopodites, with subdominant tree ferns. Petrographic, palynological and geochemical evidence suggest that the Harbour coal bed at Table Head originated as a rheotrophic (cf. planar) mire (eutric histosol). The mire forest is interpreted to have been engulfed by prograding distributary-channel sediments; sparse protist assemblages are suggestive of a freshwater delta-plain lake environment occasionally in contact with brackish waters. Lepidodendrids persisted as site colonizers of clastic substrates even after burial of the rheotrophic peatland and influenced the morphology of deposited sediment, but apparently were unable to colonize distributary channels. Equivocal taxonomic data (compression fossils) show the fossil forest to have been composed of both monocarpic (Lepidodendron) and polycarpic (Diaphorodendron, Paralycopodites, ?Sigillaria) lycopsids, genera recorded in the palynology of the uppermost ply of the underlying coal bed. Comparatively rare within the clastic beds of the fossil forest, however, is the stem compression of Paralycopodites, whose dispersed megapores and miospores dominate the underlying coal bed. Tree diameter data recorded equivalent to breast height indicate a forest of mixed age. These data would appear to suggest that some lepidodendrids employing a polycarpic reproductive strategy were better able to cross the ecological barrier imposed between peat and clastic substrates. Foliar compressions indicate that an understory or stand of Psaronius type tree ferns co-existed with the lepidodendrids on clastic substrates, which developed as incipient gleysol soils. The entombment of the forest can be ascribed to its distributary coastal setting, local subsidence and a seasonal climate that fostered wildfire and increased sedimentation.
Additional publication details
The Westphalian D fossil lepidodendrid forest at Table Head, Sydney Basin, Nova Scotia: Sedimentology, paleoecology and floral response to changing edaphic conditions