Cambrian to Devonian evolution of alluvial systems: The sedimentological impact of the earliest land plants

Davies, Neil S. and Gibling, Martin R. (2010) Cambrian to Devonian evolution of alluvial systems: The sedimentological impact of the earliest land plants. Earth-Science Reviews, 98 (3–4). pp. 171-200. ISSN 0012-8252 DOI

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In present-day alluvial environments, the impact of vegetation on sedimentological processes and deposits is well known. A vegetated catchment may decrease sediment yield, sediment erodibility, Hortonian overland flow, aeolian winnowing of fines, the proportion of sediment transported as bedload, and may increase bank stability, infiltration into substrates, and bed roughness. Vegetation also promotes the production of chemically-weathered clays and soils and the adoption of a meandering style. It is generally understood that, prior to the evolution of terrestrial vegetation during the Early Palaeozoic, ancient alluvial systems were markedly different from modern systems, with many systems adopting a “sheet-braided” style. This understanding has previously informed the interpretations of many Precambrian pre-vegetation alluvial successions, but there has been relatively little work regarding Early Palaeozoic alluvial successions laid down prior to and during the initial colonization of the Earth's surface by plants. A comprehensive review of 144 Cambrian to Devonian alluvial successions documented in published literature was combined with original field data from 34 alluvial successions across Europe and North America. The study was designed to identify changes in alluvial style during the period that vegetation was evolving and first colonizing alluvial environments. An increase in mudrock proportion and sandstone maturity is apparent, along with a decrease in overall sand grain size through the Early Palaeozoic. These trends suggest that primitive vegetation cover promoted the production and preservation of muds from the mid Ordovician onwards and increased the residence time of sand-grade sediment in alluvial systems. The compilation also enables the first stratigraphic occurrence of certain vegetation-dependent sedimentary features to be pinpointed and related to the evolution of specific palaeobotanical adaptations. The first markedly heterolithic alluvial sequences appeared at about the same time as the most primitive terrestrial vegetation in the Ordovician, and prolific pedogenic calcite, charcoal and bioturbated floodplain fines first appeared in the rock record at about the same time as vascular-plant macrofossils became abundant in the late Silurian. Lateral accretion sets in channel deposits appeared near the Silurian–Devonian boundary, at or shortly before the appearance of underground rooting systems, and become progressively more abundant in the record during the Devonian, implying a major expansion of meandering rivers as rooted plants stabilized river banks. Coals become abundant after the development of plant arborescence. The analysis suggests that the evolution of embryophytes had a profound effect on fluvial processes and deposits, and this period of landscape evolution must be considered amongst the most significant environmental and geomorphological changes in Earth history, with profound consequences for all aspects of the Earth system.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: NILAREP;
Subjects: 02 - Geodynamics, Geophysics and Tectonics
Divisions: 02 - Geodynamics, Geophysics and Tectonics
Journal or Publication Title: Earth-Science Reviews
Volume: 98
Page Range: pp. 171-200
Identification Number:
Depositing User: Sarah Humbert
Date Deposited: 23 May 2013 14:50
Last Modified: 07 Aug 2013 09:46

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