The idea that the Pennsylvanian tropical lowlands were temporally dominated by rainforest (i.e., the Coal Forest) is deeply ingrained in the literature. Here we challenge two centuries of research by suggesting that this concept is based on a taphonomic artifact, and that seasonally dry vegetation dominated instead. This controversial finding arises from the discovery of a new middle Pennsylvanian (Moscovian) fossil plant assemblage in southeast Illinois, United States. The assemblage, which contains xerophytic walchian conifers, occurs in channels incised into a calcic Vertisol below the Baker Coal. These plants grew on seasonally dry tropical lowlands inferred to have developed during a glacial phase. This xerophytic flora differs markedly from that of the typical clubmoss-dominated Coal Forest developed during deglaciation events. Although preserved only very rarely, we argue that such xerophytic floras were temporally as dominant, and perhaps more dominant, than the iconic Coal Forests, which are overrepresented in the fossil record due to taphonomic megabias. These findings require the iconography of Pennsylvanian tropical lowlands to be redrawn.
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