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Paleozoic vegetation increased fine sediment in fluvial and tidal channels: Evidence from secular changes to the mudrock content of ancient point bars

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McMahon, WJ 
Davies, NS 
Kleinhans, MG 
Mitchell, RL 


jats:titleAbstract</jats:title> jats:pThe amount of mudrock preserved globally in alluvium increased in stratigraphic synchrony with the Paleozoic evolution of land plants. This observation has been explained by vegetation promoting both the retention of mud through baffling, stabilization, and flocculation, and the production of mud through chemical weathering. However, the latter explanation has been challenged on the basis that it is perceived to require imbalance in the long-term global carbon cycle. We present a compendium of empirical evidence that is supportive of increased global fine sediment supply, and thus the contention that land plants did, in fact, promote the production of mud on the continents. We refine previous broad-brush analyses of Paleozoic mudrock content by specifically tracking shifts in the mudrock content of regions of alluvial and tidal landscapes that remained locally unvegetated even after the greening of the continents, namely inclined heterolithic stratification (IHS) that records submerged in-channel bars. We show that the Paleozoic mudrock increase was pronounced even within these areas, away from any biomechanical binding and baffling effects of plants. Precambrian and Cambrian IHS are composed almost exclusively of sandstone, whereas Silurian through to Carboniferous examples show a steady increase in total mudrock content. This progressive rise in the mudrock component of channel bars cannot alone be explained by physical retention of mud by vegetation and requires heightened fine sediment concentrations from the hinterland, which suggests that plants increased the volume of mud available at source. The muddying of Earth’s preserved IHS serves as a proxy that suggests evolving Paleozoic land plants triggered a global increase in the production and supply of fine-grained sediment.</jats:p>



37 Earth Sciences, 3709 Physical Geography and Environmental Geoscience, 3705 Geology

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Geological Society of America
NERC (NE/T00696X/1)