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Abstract

The invasion of the land by plants (‘terrestrialization’: Ordovician–Devonian) is one of the most significant evolutionary events in the history of life on Earth, and correlates in time with periods of major palaeoenvironmental perturbations. The development of a vegetation cover on the previously barren land surfaces impacted the global biogeochemical cycles and the geological processes of erosion and sediment transport. The terrestrialization process includes the rise of major new groups of animals such as arthropods and tetrapods. The latter number some 24 000 living species, including Homo sapiens. Mass extinction and radiation events observed in the marine fossil record appear to correlate significantly with bioevents recorded in the terrestrial realm, providing evidence of strong terrestrial–marine teleconnections. The evolution of early land plants also correlates with a dramatic decline in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, testifying to a first-order disturbance in the global carbon cycle. The onset of the end-Devonian glaciation after a protracted period of ‘greenhouse’ climatic conditions also appears to be causally linked to the invasion of the continents by land plants.

The major ecological role of land plant evolution on the previously barren landmasses and the conquest of the land by animal life have fascinated palaeontologists and Earth scientists since the birth of modern geoscience.

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