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To Imagine a 39-Million-Year-Old Forest, Start Small—Very Small

BEFORE IT WAS LOST, IT must have been a wild paradise: a lowland tropical forest near the sea and thick with tall palms and other slim, flowering trees. Woody vines snaked through the dense understory, shaded by relatives of today’s cashew and tropical chestnut trees, while stout hop-bushes clustered where sunlight pierced the canopy. Black mangroves sank their roots into the water where crocodiles likely waited, silent and patient, for an unsuspecting meal to wander past. The air would have been thick with birdsong and the click and buzz of insects. Then everything changed.

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