(tree, vine, shrub, ground cover); degree of xeromorphy; and expense of construction. The latter two are comparative, and hence relative, depending on the spectrum of morphologies present in Carboniferous swamps.
Habitats within a peat-forming swamp are all highly modified from extraswamp analogues by the presence of the predominantly organic substrate. The edaphic qualities of this substrate are variable, and these variations define many of the intraswamp habitats.
Flooded habitats are recognized mainly on biotic or ecomorphic criteria: low species richness, little ground cover, few free-sporing plants (which need an exposed substrate to complete their life cycle), and dominance by plants with specialized semiaquatic or flood-tolerant morphologies. Such habitats also are relatively low in charcoal. Lycopsids were the most common elements of these environments in the Westphalian.
Peat-to-clastic ecotonal habitats cover a wide range of conditions, recognizable mainly on physical criteria, although they encompass plants with corroborative life history strategies. There are several variants. Peat-to-mud transitional environments are associated with underclays, clastic partings, or usually high ash and mineral matter in coal; they are populated in the Westphalian by a small arboreous lycopsid (Paralycopodites), and often by medullosan seed ferns. Fire-prone habitats are associated with elevated levels of fusain and often with increased clastic material; the most common components of these environments are medullosan pteridosperms, sphenopsids, and in some cases, small, scrambling cordaitean gymnosperms. Habitats with long periods of exposure and presumed drying of the peat surface are characterized by heavily rotted and rerooted peats, often with evidence of extensive invertebrate burrowing; such environments are associated with larger cordaites, some sigillarian lycopsids, and medullosan pteridosperms.
Cryptic, or irregular disturbance, habitats are recognizable by physical and ecomorphic attributes. They generally have little fusain or mineral matter. Evidence from an unusual buried forest deposit (Wnuk and Pfefferkorn, 1987), drawn from species compositional similarities, suggests irregular floods. In some swamps, storms associated with the influx of marine waters may have been a major disturbance agent, suggested by multiple coal-ball and coal layers containing marine invertebrates. Such habitats are generally dominated by polycarpic, long-lived trees, lycopsids in the Westphalian, and possibly tree ferns in the Stephanian. Species richness is intermediate, growth architectures often are very variable among the subdominants, and a ground cover component is generally important.
In this section we focus on the temporal patterns of change in coal swamps. This pattern is examined first at the landscape level-changes that are the easiest to describe and thus to relate to larger questions of environmental influence. The timing and extent of landscape-level changes is compared with patterns in habitat and species composition of successive swamps. We examine the relative timing and extent of change in these elements, and the relationship between species turnover and habitat persistence. We then argue that these relationships suggest a hierarchical structure in which biotic factors influence patterns of species replacement.
Change in the relative abundance of the major plant groups comprising swamp communities is the major, and simplest, indicator of community change and has been discussed elsewhere (Phillips and Peppers, 1984; Phillips et al., 1985). Because the major plant groups (lycopsids, ferns, pteridosperms, sphenopsids, cordaites) are broadly distinct in habitat preference, changes in their relative abundances also reflect changes in the physical characteristics of swamps. Figure 8.5 summarizes the changes by geographic region, with the general pattern summarized in the right-hand column.
Biomass distribution is spread among enough major tree groups, and the patterns are sufficiently distinct, that some important generalities can be resolved at this level. We use mostly western European chronostratigraphic terminology because that of the United States varies widely among geographic regions.
1. Lycopsids, of several ecomorphic forms, dominate most coal swamps for the 9 m.y. (using the Hess and Lippolt, 1986, time scale) of the Westphalian (late early and middle Pennsylvanian). Major extinctions in North America occurred near the Westphalian-Stephanian (middle-upper Pennsylvanian) boundary, eliminating most of the lepidodendrids and removing the lycopsids from a position of ecological dominance in swamps (Phillips et al., 1974).
2. Cordaitean gymnosperms are the major subdominants or dominants during the midportion of this time interval, from the Westphalian B to the early Westphalian D. Two distinct phases are represented. During the Westphalian B and C, cordaitean taxa that produced Mitrospermum-type seeds (ovules) were the most common