Rhynie Chert

Abstract

The Rhynie chert of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, UK contains exceptionally well‐preserved Early Devonian (c. 407 Ma) fossil plants and arthropods. The chert is a siliceous rock resulting from the alteration of sinter deposited around surface vents by hydrothermal hot springs, and the cherts lie within shales and sandstones deposited by floods from a river system. The seven embryophyte plants include primitive rhyniophytes and early lycopods. Both sporophyte and gametophyte generations are preserved for several plants. Saprophytic, parasitic and symbiotic fungi are associated with the plants. The terrestrial fauna is dominated by arthropods with trigonotarbids, mites, myriapods and primitive hexapods, and freshwater pools contained branchiopod crustaceans and a euthycarcinoid. The biota comprises the oldest well‐preserved terrestrial ecosystem on Earth, and the primitive terrestrial plants form the cornerstone of palaeobotany.

Key Concepts:

  • The Rhynie chert contains the oldest well preserved terrestrial ecosystem on Earth.

  • Silica preserves delicate 3D structures in plants and arthropods.

  • The earliest full sporophte/gametophyte plant life histories are preserved.

  • Superb preservation reveals many organisms with their earliest known occurrence in the chert.

  • The advanced ecological relationships in the Rhynie chert indicate a long pre‐Devonian period of terrestrial colonisation by plants and arthropods.

  • The ecosytem has many features in common with modern plant litter communities.

Keywords: Rhynie; chert; Devonian; plants; rhyniophyte; sporophyte; gametophyte; arthropods

Figure 1.

Section of a block of Rhynie chert, which comprises three beds of fossiliferous chert. The central bed contains plant stems (white) preserved in growth position. © Nigel Trewin.

Figure 2.

Cross‐section of stems of Rhynia and a sporangium containing spores to illustrate preservation of cellular detail in the Rhynie chert. Field of view 4 mm wide. © Nigel Trewin.

Figure 3.

General reconstruction of the environment at Rhynie in Early Devonian times. Hot spring fluids emerge at the marginal fault to the Rhynie basin and flow into the basin forming a sinter apron. The water flows into marshy areas with plant growth where silicification of the biota took place. Floods from a river system periodically invaded the areas of sinter deposition depositing mud and sand, now preserved as shale and sandstone between beds of the chert. © Nigel Trewin.

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Further Reading

Chaloner WG and Macdonald P (1980) Plants Invade the Land. London: HMSO.

Cleal CJ and Thomas BA (1995) Palaeozoic palaeobotany of Great Britain. Geological conservation review series 9, pp. 51–103. London: Chapman & Hall.

Stewart WN and Rothwell GW (1993) Palaeobotany and the Evolution of Plants, 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Trewin NH (2001) The Rhynie Chert. In: Briggs DEG and Crowther PR (eds) Palaeobiology II, chap. 3.4.5, pp. 342–346. London: Blackwells.

Trewin NH and Fayers SR (2004) Chert. In: Selley RC, Cocks LRM and Plimer IR (eds) Encyclopedia of Geology. New York: Academic Press.

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How to Cite close
Trewin, Nigel H(Jun 2013) Rhynie Chert. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0001624.pub3]