Howard Falcon-Lang

Howard Falcon-Lang
Royal Holloway, University of London | RHUL · Department of Earth Sciences

BSc Geology (Leeds), PhD Geology (London)

About

165
Publications
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Introduction
I'm a palaeontologist with a passion for communication. I work at the interface of research, education and media. My research deals with the evolution of terrestrial ecosystems over the past 500 million years. I'm always looking for new research students and postdocs with related interests, so please free feel to drop me a line to discuss projects, funding or collaborations. I teach undergraduate and graduate level courses at Royal Holloway University of London.
Additional affiliations
January 2009 - present
Royal Holloway, University of London
September 2002 - December 2008
University of Bristol
September 2000 - September 2002
Dalhousie University
Education
September 1995 - June 1998
September 1992 - June 1995
University of Leeds
Field of study
  • Geological Sciences

Publications

Publications (165)
Article
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 fi nding aris...
Presentation
Full-text available
Patterns of floristic change in the Euramerican tropics during the Pennsylvanian to Permian transition have traditionally been viewed as a direct shift from a pteridophyte-dominated “Paleophytic flora” to a seed-plant-dominated “Mesophytic flora”. From this vantage point, omnipresent humidity during the Pennsylvanian “Coal Age” resulted in vast pea...
Article
We evaluate the influences of elevation and climate on the spatio-temporal distribution of wetland and dryland biomes during the Pennsylvanian and early Permian in tropical Pangea. The longstanding ‘‘upland model” places drought-tolerant vegetation in elevated habitats, where slope and drainage created moisture-limited substrates under a humid clim...
Article
The Late Mississippian and Pennsylvanian have been referred to as the Coal Age due to enormous paleotropical peat accumulations (coal beds). Numerous fossil floras have been collected from these coals, and their associated seat-earth paleosols and roof-shales, over more than two centuries, leading to the inference of vast swampy wetlands covering t...
Article
Where can you teach the fundamental principles of geology in three short field days? In this feature article, I introduce South Devon as a classic area of geology, useful for introducing basic concepts relevant to school and first‐year degree curricula. That this region remains a catalyst for developing young geologists is especially fitting given...
Article
Unravelling the geology of Pembrokeshire (southwest Wales) has been a rite of passage for British undergraduate students for generations. A favourite destination for an Easter fieldtrip, this complex region contains diverse geology of late Precambrian to Carboniferous age. In the course of a five‐day excursion, a student can uncover evidence for tw...
Article
The first phase in the stepwise collapse of the Carboniferous Coal Forests occurred near the Desmoinesian-Missourian boundary (early Kasimovian, ∼307Ma), and involved extirpation of Lycospora-producing lepidodendrids, and some other lycopsids, across most of tropical Euramerica. In this paper, we follow-up on historical reports of silicified tree-s...
Article
Late Middle through Late Pennsylvanian fossil plant assemblages, and the strata from which they were collected, are described from Socorro County, New Mexico, U.S.A. The flora is diverse and consists of a mixture of taxa generally considered typical of both wetland and seasonally dry habitats. The overall climate likely varied in synchrony with gla...
Article
Full-text available
Late Middle through Late Pennsylvanian fossil plant assemblages, and the strata from which they were collected, are described from Socorro County, New Mexico, U.S.A. The flora is diverse and consists of a mixture of taxa generally considered typical of both wetland and seasonally dry habitats. The overall climate likely varied in synchrony with gla...
Article
We report fossil wood specimens from two Miocene sites in Panama, Central America: Hodges Hill (Cucaracha Formation; Burdigalian, c.19 Ma) and Lago Alajuela (Alajuela Formation; Tortonian, c.10 Ma), where material is preserved as calcic and silicic permineralizations, respectively. The fossils show an unusual combination of features: diffuse porous...
Article
Three fossil wood specimens are described from the Miocene (early to mid-Burdigalian) part of the Cucaracha Formation of Panama, Central America. The calcareously-permineralised fossils, which contain Teredolites borings, occur in erosive-based pebbly conglomerate lenses, interpreted as tidally-influenced fluvial channel deposits. Detailed investig...
Article
We thank Davies et al. (2017) for their comments and welcome the opportunity to further discuss the role of early land plants in fluvial environments. Critically, Davies et al. (2017) note that although testable hypotheses exist for the possible role of early land plants they remain untested, and thus there is correlation (between an increase in me...
Article
Full-text available
The only known coal bed in the Late Pennsylvanian Bursum Formation crops out in Carrizo Arroyo, Valencia County, New Mexico. Biozonation using fossils of conodonts, insects and plants suggests a latest Pennsylvanian age. The coal was first reported by Darton in 1928, and palynofloras have been previously obtained from strata below and above it. Ass...
Article
Euryhaline adaptations in Pennsylvanian vertebrates allowed them to inhabit the marine to freshwater spectrum. This is illustrated by new assemblages of fish and tetrapods from the early Moscovian Minto Formation of New Brunswick, Canada. Fish include chondrichthyans (xenacanthids and the enigmatic Ageleodus), acanthodians (gyracanthids and acantho...
Article
Pinus (Pinaceae) is a diverse conifer genus that dominates Northern Hemisphere forests today and is noteworthy for its fire-adapted traits. Here we describe the oldest known fossils attributable to the genus from the Lower Cretaceous (Valanginian, ca. 133-140 Ma) part of the Chaswood Formation of Nova Scotia, Canada. Pinus mundayi sp. nov. comprise...
Article
We report Skolithos, Scoyenia and Mermia Ichnofacies from sub-humid tropical fluvial megafan deposits in the Lower Pennsylvanian Tynemouth Creek Formation of New Brunswick, Canada, and discuss their evolutionary and palaeoecological implications, especially regarding the colonization of continental freshwater/terrestrial environments. The Skolithos...
Article
The systematics and palaeoclimatic significance of silicified tree-stumps found in growth position in the Late Pennsylvanian (Kasimovian) Atrasado Formation, near Socorro, New Mexico, U.S.A. are described. Two taxa are documented. Macdonaldodendron giganticus (3 or 4 stumps) comprises a broad, non-septate pith containing plate-like sclerotic nests,...
Article
We document the occurrence of a marine bed, and its associated biota, in the Lower Pennsylvanian (Langsettian) Tynemouth Creek Formation of New Brunswick, and discuss its implications for paleogeography, stratigraphy and paleoecology. This is only the second marine interval found in the entire Pennsylvanian fill of the Maritimes Basin of Canada, th...
Article
Full-text available
We document the occurrence of a marine bed, and its associated biota, in the Lower Pennsylvanian (Langsettian) Tynemouth Creek Formation of New Brunswick, and discuss its implications for paleogeography, stratigraphy, and paleoecology. This is only the second marine interval found in the entire Pennsylvanian fill of the Maritimes Basin of Canada, t...
Article
Full-text available
The Pennsylvanian-Permian transition has been inferred to be a time of significant glaciation in the Southern Hemisphere, the effects of which were manifested throughout the world. In the equatorial regions of Pangea, the response of terrestrial ecosystems was highly variable geographically, reflecting the interactions of polar ice and geographic p...
Article
Full-text available
A review of all available specimens of fossil fishes from the classic Pennsylvanian Joggins locality of Nova Scotia, Canada, reveals the existence of a diverse community of chondrichthyans (xenacanthids, ctenacanthids and the enigmatic Ageleodus), acanthodians (gyracanthids), sarcopterygians (rhizodontids, megalichthyids, rhizodopsids and dipnoans)...
Article
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We describe plant–arthropod associations from the Middle Pennsylvanian (late Bolsovian–early Asturian) Pennant Sandstone Formation of southern Britain. Our material comprises calcified cordaitaleans and tree-fern axes, preserved in braided channel deposits, and interpreted as remains of subhumid riparian vegetation distinct from that of coeval coal...
Article
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In this paper, we describe how the study of fossil plants (palaeobotany) directly led to the widespread adoption of microscopy as a tool for geologists. The key event was the discovery, in 1826, of a giant fossil tree trunk in Craigleith Quarry, Edinburgh. This extraordinary object somehow fell into the hands of Henry Witham, who had recently arriv...
Article
As vegetation evolved during the Palaeozoic Era, terrestrial landscapes were substantially transformed, especially during the ~120 million year interval from the Devonian through the Carboniferous. Early Palaeozoic river systems were of sheet-braided style – broad, shallow, sandbed rivers with non-cohesive and readily eroded banks. Under the influe...
Article
Full-text available
A newly discovered fossil forest is reported from Lower Pennsylvanian (late Langsettian) strata in the classic Amroth to Wiseman’s Bridge section of Pembrokeshire, South Wales. It comprises nearly two hundred sediment-cast Calamites axes and putative groundcover ferns, preserved in growth position in the deltaic mouth bar deposits of a marine-influ...
Article
Nine fossil wood specimens are described from the Miocene (early to mid-Burdigalian) part of the Cucaracha Formation of Panama, Central America. The calcareous permineralised fossils, which contain Teredolites borings, occur in erosive-based pebbly conglomerate lenses, interpreted as tidally influenced fluvial channels. All specimens show tile cell...
Article
We describe fish assemblages from the Carboniferous (mid- to late Tournaisian) Ballagan Formation at two localities, Hawk's Nib and Mill Hole, on the Isle of Bute, Scotland. Fossil material occurs in thin, locally reworked dolomitic limestone beds, interpreted as the deposits of very shallow lakes or lagoons, developed on, or adjacent to, a seasona...
Article
The distribution and community ecology of Early Pennsylvanian (middle Bashkirian, Langsettian) vegetation on a seasonally dry fluvial megafan is reconstructed from plant assemblages in the Tynemouth Creek Formation of New Brunswick, Canada. The principal motif of the redbed-dominated succession consists of degraded interfluve surfaces overlain by c...
Article
We describe the anatomy of silicified tree trunks found in the lower Permian (Sakmarian) Community Pit Formation (Hueco Group) near Las Cruces, south-central New Mexico, U.S.A. The fossils occur as allochthonous assemblages within facies interpreted as supratidal sabkha deposits in a dominantly shallow marine carbonate-siliciclastic succession, and...
Article
We describe a calcareously permineralised fossil tree-trunk, preserved as driftwood, within hemipelagic sediments of the Cretaceous Puez Formation near Wolkenstein, South Tyrol, Italy. Planktic foraminiferal assemblages recovered from the marls containing the fossil wood indicate a latest middle Albian age. Based on its wood anatomy, the trunk is a...
Article
Full-text available
The evolutionary history of Pennsylvanian tropical dryland/upland communities remains enigmatic. In this paper, we describe conifer-dominated palynofloras in a fades context from the early to mid-Moscovian (Middle Pennsylvanian) interval of the De Lutte-6 borehole (the Netherlands) that shed light on this issue. Our data suggest that, in the upper...
Article
This paper is the first in a series describing a diverse assemblage of charcoalified angiosperm woods from the Cretaceous (early to mid-Santonian) Eutaw Formation at Upatoi Creek, Georgia, USA. In our study, we separated ‘twigs’ from more ‘mature’ woods and further subdivided the latter material into specimens showing scalariform and simple perfora...
Article
The Bristol Coalfield of southwest Britain, although intensively studied in the early history of palaeobotany, has received little attention for 75 years. Here we review the palaeobotany of the mid-Bolsovian to Cantabrian (Moscovian) Warwickshire Group of the Bristol Coalfield, which comprises, from base to top, the Winterbourne, Pennant Sandstone...
Article
The medullosan pteridosperm Macroneuropteris scheuchzeri (Hoffmann) Cleal, Shute & Zodrow was widespread and abundant in the Middle to Late Pennsylvanian forests of tropical Pangaea. On the basis of its thick cuticles, few adaxial stomata, sunken stomata, and dense trichomes, it has been inferred to be a xeromorphic plant. Here we test that hypothe...
Article
Stonehammer Geopark of New Brunswick, Canada is one of the newest destinations in the UNESCO‐assisted Global Geoparks Network, and the first in North America. Its rocks tell the amazing billion‐year story of the evolution of eastern North America. Highlights include some of the finest Precambrian stromatolites in the world, a Cambrian site that yie...
Article
We describe moderately diverse but extremely widespread calcified plant assemblages from the Pennsylvanian (mid/lateBolsovian–Asturian) Pennant Sandstone Formation (Warwickshire Group) of southern Britain, based on museum collections and new field discoveries. Fossils are documented from 21 sites where they comprise allochthonous accumulations with...
Article
Full-text available
Global patterns of Cretaceous forest composition and productivity are analyzed using a comprehensive fossil wood database (n = 2238). To ascertain forest composition, records were classified by botanical affinity, plotted on georeferenced paleomaps, and analyzed with ArcGIS tools. Results confirm previous conjecture that araucarioid and podocarpoid...
Article
The British Geological Survey is home to more than three million fossils collected over two centuries and catalogued with enormous precision. However, as generations of curators have come and gone, a few collections have lain forgotten and their significance has gradually passed out of memory. Six months ago, I pulled opened some drawers marked ‘un...
Article
A newly discovered vertebrate assemblage is reported from the Upper Pennsylvanian (mid-to upper Kasimovian) Conn Coal Member of the Mattoon Formation of southeast Illinois, United States. Teeth, scales, and spines of xenacanth (Dicentrodus, Orthacanthus, Triodus, Xena canthus) and euselachian (Sphenacanthus) sharks dominate the assemblage.Less comm...
Article
Full-text available
Here I provide critical notes on a multiauthored paper purported to show the absence of a major gap in the Upper Pennsylvanian stratigraphic succession in North America (and, by inference, in northern Western Europe). It is observed that intellectually satisfying explanations for the discontinuities in the North American successions, having recours...
Article
In a recent paper, we described tree trunks of Pitus primaeva from early Mississippian (?late Tournaisian) strata of the Isle of Bute, Scotland based on a small sample size (n=3) and semi-quantitative analysis. In this follow-up study, we analyse a much larger population of specimens (n=34) and conduct Principal Component Analysis (PCA) of quantita...
Article
Plants have been making wood (secondary xylem) for more than 370 million years. This familiar material is one of the keys to their massive success. Wood allows plants to attain breathtaking heights and maximize the capture of sunlight for growth. By creating complex, multi‐layered forests, the evolution of wood, has done more to shape life on land...
Article
Pennsylvanian fossil forests are known from hundreds of sites across tropical Pangea, but nearly all comprise remains of humid Coal Forests. Here we report a unique occurrence of seasonally dry vegetation, preserved in growth position along >5 km of strike, in the Pennsylvanian (early Kasimovian, Missourian) of New Mexico (United States). Analyses...
Article
Full-text available
Interregional correlation of the marine zones of major cyclothems between North America and eastern Europe does not support assertions that a major stratigraphic gap exists between the traditional regional Desmoinesian and Missourian stages in North America. Such a gap was previously proposed to explain an abrupt change in megafloral assemblages in...
Article
Fossil forests, buried in growth position in a geological instant (T-0 assemblages) are far more abundant in Pennsylvanian successions than in any other part of the geological record. In this review paper, we evaluate the fundamental controls on the origin of these phenomena, investigate the taphonomic biases that influence their composition, and s...
Article
Full-text available
New research suggests that Pennsylvanian Coal Forests were commonly replaced by conifer-dominated vegetation during seasonally dry glacial phases. Here we describe palynological assemblages from stacked sequences of the Middle Pennsylvanian (late Moscovian) Sydney Mines Formation of Nova Scotia, Canada, which lends some support to this hypothesis....
Article
Full-text available
The Lower Cretaceous Chaswood Formation is a terrestrial deposit preserved as scattered outcrops across Maritime Canada. Here we describe newly recognized outliers of the Chaswood Formation near Windsor, Nova Scotia. A Cretaceous age is confirmed only in Bailey Quarry, where sediments are provisionally assigned a Valanginian–Hauterivian (140–130 Ma...
Article
We reconstruct the spatial heterogeneity and community ecology of riparian vegetation preserved in fluvial deposits of the upper Asturian to middle(?) Cantabrian (upper Moscovian) Nýřany Member, Central and Western Bohemian Basin, Czech Republic. Poorly fossiliferous channel sandstone and conglomerate dominate at the four localities studied, but fi...
Article
The Isle of Portland is one of the jewels in the crown of the ‘Jurassic Coast’ of Dorset, southern England. Thomas Hardy aptly described this limestone peninsula as the ‘Gibraltar of Wessex’, and used its stone quarries as the backdrop for one of his novels (The Well-Beloved). Quarries then, as now, work the world-famous Portland Stone—a Jurassic o...
Article
Full-text available
Abrupt collapse of the tropical rainforest biome (Coal Forests) drove rapid diversificationof Carboniferous tetrapods (amphibians and reptiles) in Euramerica. This finding is based onanalysis of global and alpha diversity databases in a precise geologic context. From Visean toMoscovian time, both diversity measures steadily increased, but following r...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Joggins was one of the first places in North America where coal was mined. In this paper we employ dendrochronology to date timber pit props preserved within relic coal mine workings on the closely adjacent Fundy and Dirty seams. These remains comprise a system of adits created through ‘room and pillar’ mining. Of the seventy-three samples collecte...
Article
Newly discovered tetrapod trackways are reported from eight sites in the Lower Pennsylvanian Tynemouth Creek Formation of southern New Brunswick, Canada. By far the most abundant and well-preserved tracks comprise pentadactyl footprints of medium size (32–53 mm long) with slender digits and a narrow splay (mostly < 55°). Digit lengths typically app...
Article
Sequence stratigraphic analysis of Pennsylvanian coal-bearing strata suggests that glacial-interglacial fluctuations at high latitudes drove cyclic changes in tropical biomes. A literature review of plant assemblages in this paleoclimatic context suggests that coal forests dominated during humid interglacial phases, but were replaced by seasonally...
Article
Wetland floras narrowly define perceptions of Pennsylvanian tropical ecosystems, the so-called Coal Age. Such wetlands reflect humid to perhumid climate, leading to characterizations of Pennsylvanian tropics as everwet, swampy. These views are biased by the high preservation potential of wetlands. Sedimentation patterns, paleosols, and fossil flora...