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The Devonian was a peculiar time in the Phanerozoic evolution of the Earth. Most continents, including the large Gondwana and Laurussia cratons, formed a Pangaea-type assembly around the tropical Prototethys and an increasingly hot, global, greenhouse climate prevailed, with a complete lack of major ice sheets, even in polar areas. There was gradual and increasing flooding of the continents, creating huge epicontinental seas that have no modern analogues. Under these conditions the plants finally conquered the land, with the innovation of deep roots in the Emsian, the appearance of seed precursors and trees in the Givetian, and the spread of vegetation into dry uplands in the late Famennian. In the marine realm, the largest-known Phanerozoic tropical reef belts surrounded craton margins and tropical islands. It was the time of the sudden radiation of early ammonoids, of the earliest episodic blooms of calcareous-shelled, pelagic zooplankton (tentaculitoids), the rise to dominance of fishes, mostly of armoured forms and with giants reaching 10 m in length, but also including the first sharks, and the appearance of earliest tetrapods in marginal settings. However, the tropical and subtropical areas reaching up to 45° latitude were hardly a paradise. A combination of climatic, plate tectonic/magmatic and still poorly understood palaeoceanographic factors caused the recurrent sudden perturbation of stable ecological conditions by short-term global events of variable magnitude (e.g. House 1985), including two of the biggest mass extinctions that the Earth's biosphere has experienced—the Upper Kellwasser Event at the Frasnian–Famennian boundary and the Hangenberg Events at the close of the Devonian.

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