Reconstructions of Pennsylvanian coal swamps are some of the most common images of late Paleozoic terrestrial ecosystems. All reconstructions to date are based on data from either time-averaged permineralized peats or single-site collections. An erect, in situ Early Pennsylvanian forest preserved above the Blue Creek Coal, Black Warrior Basin, Alabama, was sampled in 17 localities over an area of >0.5 km2, resulting in the first temporally and spatially constrained Pennsylvanian mire data set. This three-tiered forest was heterogeneous. Lycopsid and calamitean trees composed the canopy, and lepidodendrids, Lepidophloios, and sigillarians grew together at most sites. More juvenile than mature lycopsid biomass occurs in the forest-floor litter, indicating a mixed-age, multicohort canopy. Pteridophytes (tree fern) and pteridosperms (seed fern) dominated as understory shrubs, whereas sphenophyllaleans, pteridophytes, and pteridosperms composed the ground-cover and liana tier. The proportion of canopy, understory, and ground-cover biomass varied across the forest. Low proportions of ground-cover and liana taxa existed where canopy fossils accounted for >60% of the litter. There is a distinct spatial clustering of sites with more or less understory (or ground cover) where canopy contribution was <60%. Where canopy biomass was low (<50%), understory shrubs contributed more biomass, indicative of light interception and/or competition strategies. Sphenopteris pottsvillea, a ubiquitous ground-cover plant, is abundant in all sites except one, where pteridosperm creepers and lianas dominate the litter, interpreted to indicate total suppression of other ground-cover growth. Ecological wet-dry gradients identified in other Pennsylvanian swamps do not exist in the Blue Creek mire, with the interpreted wettest (Lepidophloios), driest (Sigillaria), and intermediate (Lepidodendron sensu latu) taxa coexisting in most assemblages.

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