Perhaps even more surprisingly, vascular plants formed the kinds of rivers we see around us today, according to another article by Martin Gibling of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia and Neil Davies of the University of Ghent in Belgium, who analyzed sediment deposition going back hundreds of millions of years. Before the era of plants, water ran over Earth's landmasses in broad sheets, with no defined courses. Only when enough vegetation grew to break down rock into minerals and mud, and then hold that mud in place, did river banks form and begin to channel the water. The channeling led to periodic flooding that deposited sediment over broad areas, building up rich soil. The soil allowed trees to take root. Their woody debris fell into the rivers, creating logjams that rapidly created new channels and caused even more flooding, setting up a feedback loop that eventually supported forests and fertile plains.
"Sedimentary rocks, before plants, contained almost no mud," explains Gibling, a professor of Earth science at Dalhousie. "But after plants developed, the mud content increased dramatically. Muddy landscapes expanded greatly. A new kind of eco-space was created that wasn't there before."