The invasion of the land in deep time: integrating Paleozoic records of paleobiology, ichnology, sedimentology, and geomorphology

Luis Buatois*, Neil Davies, Martin Gibling, Veronica Krapovickas, Conrad Labandeira, Robert MacNaughton, Gabriela Mángano, Nic Minter, Anthony Shillito

*Corresponding author for this work

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The invasion of the land was a complex, protracted process, punctuated by mass extinctions, that involved multiple routes from marine environments. We integrate paleobiology, ichnology, sedimentology, and geomorphology to reconstruct Paleozoic terrestrialization. Cambrian landscapes were dominated by laterally mobile rivers with unstable banks in the absence of significant vegetation. Temporary incursions by arthropods and worm-like organisms into coastal environments apparently did not result in establishment of continental communities. Contemporaneous lacustrine faunas may have been inhibited by limited nutrient delivery and high sediment loads. The Ordovician appearance of early land plants triggered a shift in the primary locus of the global clay mineral factory, increasing the amount of mudrock on the continents. The Silurian-Devonian rise of vascular land plants, including the first forests and extensive root systems, was instrumental in further retaining fine sediment on alluvial plains. These innovations led to increased architectural complexity of braided and meandering rivers. Landscape changes were synchronous with establishment of freshwater and terrestrial arthropod faunas in overbank areas, abandoned fluvial channels, lake margins, ephemeral lakes, and inland deserts. Silurian-Devonian lakes experienced improved nutrient availability, due to increased phosphate weathering and terrestrial humic matter. All these changes favoured frequent invasions to permament establishment of jawless and jawed fishes in freshwater habitats and the subsequent tetrapod colonization of the land. The Carboniferous saw rapid diversification of tetrapods, mostly linked to aquatic reproduction, and land plants, including gymnosperms. Deeper root systems promoted further riverbank stabilization, contributing to the rise of anabranching rivers and braided systems with vegetated islands. New lineages of aquatic insects developed and expanded novel feeding modes, including herbivory. Late Paleozoic soils commonly contain pervasive root and millipede traces. Lacustrine animal communities diversified, accompanied by increased food-web complexity and improved food delivery which may have favored permanent colonization of offshore and deep-water lake environments. These trends continued in the Permian, but progressive aridification favored formation of hypersaline lakes, which were stressful for colonization. The Capitanian and end-Permian extinctions affected lacustrine and fluvial biotas, particularly the invertebrate infauna, although burrowing may have allowed some tetrapods to survive associated global warming and increased aridification.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-331
Number of pages35
JournalIntegrative and Comparative Biology
Issue number2
Early online date31 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2022


  • UKRI
  • NERC
  • NE/T00696X


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