The Carboniferous Rainforest Collapse

    The Carboniferous officially ends 299 million years ago with the appearance of the fusulinid foram
    Sphaeroschwagerina fusiformis. However, that was in the seas. On land, a major extinction event known
    as The Carboniferous Rainforest Collapse had occurred 5 million years earlier. The towering lycopsid trees
    that formed the canopy of the Carboniferous jungles vanished overnight. Gone were the Lepidodendron,
    Sigillaria and calamites that made up most of the vegetation which formed the base of the food chain.
    Countless arthropods -- insects, arachnids (spiders, scorpions, mites), myriapods (centipedes, millipedes) --
    that had invaded the land since the Silurian, depended on these sources and were preyed upon in turn by the
    apex predators of the period: the amphibians.

    Following Cope's Law, an arms race among the animals throughout the Carboniferous led to both prey and
    predator ending up with enormous sizes by the time of the collapse. On the 'insect' side, the most impressive
    was a myriapod known as Arthropleura that grew to 2 meters in length. Another monster, a dragonfly known
    as Meganeura, flew around with a yard-long wingspan. And Pulmonoscorpius was an intimidating scorpion
    just a tad shorter than that. On the amphibian side, top predators included 6 feet long Crassigyrinus and
The Carboniferous
358 - 299 mya

Nila and Bill      


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The History of Life on Earth
Land of Insects

Three conspicuous 'insects' of the Carboniferous:

Arthropleura (7 foot centipede)

Meganeura (1 meter wing span dragon fly)

and Pulmonoscorpius (a 70 cm terrestrial scorpion).

Lycopsids such as
Lepidodendron and Sigillaria
formed the base of the
food chain. Most of the coal
we unearth today comes from
these trees which dominated the
Carboniferous landscape for 60
million years.
Amphibians Crassigyrinus (left) and Proterogyrinus (right), apex predators of the Carboniferous until the
collapse of the rain forest. Their demise gave way to the more reptilian lineages of amphibians: the invention
of the amniotic egg.

    The problem is that some of these creatures didn't live at the same time (or place for that matter). The BBC's
    Walking With Monsters series shows a battle between the amphibian Proterogyrinus and the centipede
    Arthropleura. When you do a little bit of research, it appears that Proterogyrinus died at the end of the
    Mississipian Epoch (323 mya) and Arthropleura wasn't born until the after the beginning of the Pennsylvanian
    Epoch. Did these two critters ever meet?

    Of course, there's a lot of 'filling in the blanks' and countless opinions. This is the result of having so few
    specimens to arrive at precise conclusions. We have to go with the next best: a general picture.

    The Big Picture

    The Big Picture is that after the Devonian ended (some 360 mya) tetrapods evolved on land, following the
    arachnids that diversified and carved niches in the expanding terrestrial vegetation. By the time of the rain
    forest collapse 55 million years later the 'insects' as well as the amphibians had grown to enormous sizes.
    They all ultimately depended on the club mosses, quillworts, horsetails and other ancient families of plants
    which also had evolved to be gigantic.

    Consensus among paleontologists is that it was climate change that did them all in. The humid, cold
    swamps dried up as global temperatures soared and the reining plants disappeared. They were pushed
    aside by ferns which had greater tolerance for the warmer environment. Similarly, the more reptile-like
    amphibians such as Eryops and Diadectes, muscled aside the less fit archaic terrestrial amphibians and
    inaugurated the Permian.

    It never occurred to the 'experts' that the extinction of species could have happened the other way around.
    Maybe the plants and animals did not disappear because of draught. Maybe the animals vanished in a mini
    mass extinction triggered by the collapse of the lycopods and  calamites, yes, but not because these plants
    could not withstand the weather. Lycopods and calamites had simply been around for too long. These
    plants belonged to dynasties that traced their lineage all the way to the start of the Devonian over 100
    million years earlier. Did the experts think that Lepidodendron and Sigillaria would live forever if the ferns
    failed to evolve? Is this what they learn and teach in college from generation to generation?

    Like animals, plants undergo a process known as the Overturning of the Population Pyramid. All living
    dynasties, species and individuals must come to a dead end one day. There are no species that live
    forever. This might sound as straight forward to some paleontologists, but it only means that they have not
    understood what they've just read. If we were standing at the beginning of the Cambrian some 540 mya,
    we should be able to predict that plants are periodically going to disappear and be replaced by more
    sophisticated plants. It's simply the history of life on Earth. It's what happened. The lycopods were replaced
    by the ferns which were pushed aside by the conifers which were smothered by the flowering plants we
    have today. You would think that it is the first thing a student of Paleontology learns in college. Yet, there
    is not a single theory on planet Earth from any of the 'experts' that states that plants died because their
    population pyramid overturned. The 'experts' invoke asteroids, volcanoes, climate change, disease and
    who knows what else except that...

    1. the plants grew enormous near the day they disappeared,

    2. they grew old and numerous,

    3. their genetic diversity decreased after millions of years and countless population bottlenecks,

    4. in the last stages they grew vegetatively rather than through seeds, cones and spores, and

    5. they were finally aided in their demise by relentless consumers and competing species.

    We need no asteroids, volcanoes or climate change to explain any of the mass extinctions in the history of
    life on Earth. The mass extinctions throughout the Carboniferous quite far from being exceptions confirm
    the rule.