Mineralisation of filamentous cyanobacteria in Lake Thetis stromatolites, Western Australia

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Abstract

Stromatolites are cited as some of the earliest evidence for life on Earth, but problems remain in reconciling the paucity of microfossils in ancient carbonate examples with the abundance of microbes that help construct modern analogues. Here, we trace the mineralisation pathway of filamentous cyanobacteria within stromatolites from Lake Thetis, Western Australia, providing new insights into microfossil preservation in carbonate stromatolites. Lake Thetis cyanobacteria exhibit a spectrum of mineralisation processes that include early precipitation of Mg-silicates, largely controlled by the morphochemical features of the cyanobacteria, followed by aragonite formation that is inferred to be driven by heterotrophic activity. Fossilised cyanobacteria with high-quality morphological preservation are characterised by a significant volume of authigenic Mg-silicates, which have preferentially nucleated in/on extracellular organic material and on cell walls, and now replicate the region once occupied by the cyanobacterial sheath. In such specimens, aragonite is restricted to the outer sheath margin and parts of the cell interior. Cyanobacteria that display more significant degradation appear to possess a higher ratio of aragonite to Mg-silicate. In these specimens, aragonite forms micronodules in the sheath zone and is spatially associated with the inferred remains of heterotrophic bacteria. Aragonite also occurs as an advancing front from the outer margin of the sheath where it is commonly intergrown with Mg-silicates. Where there is no evidence of Mg-silicates within filaments, the fidelity of microfossil preservation is poor. In these cases, individual filaments may no longer be visible under light microscopy, and little organic material remains, but filament traces remain detectable using electron microscopy due to variations in aragonite texture. These data provide further evidence that authigenic silicate minerals play a crucial role in the fossilisation of micro-organisms; in their absence, carbonate crystal growth potentially mediated by heterotrophic microbial decay may largely obliterate morphological evidence for life within stromatolites, although mineralogical traces may still be detectable using electron microscopy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-215
JournalGeobiology
Volume16
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018

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aragonite
Western Australia
silicates
Cyanobacteria
cyanobacterium
mineralization
silicate
lakes
microfossils
lake
microfossil
carbonates
electron microscopy
carbonate
silicate minerals
microorganisms
fossilization
authigenic mineral
silicate mineral
crystals

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title = "Mineralisation of filamentous cyanobacteria in Lake Thetis stromatolites, Western Australia",
abstract = "Stromatolites are cited as some of the earliest evidence for life on Earth, but problems remain in reconciling the paucity of microfossils in ancient carbonate examples with the abundance of microbes that help construct modern analogues. Here, we trace the mineralisation pathway of filamentous cyanobacteria within stromatolites from Lake Thetis, Western Australia, providing new insights into microfossil preservation in carbonate stromatolites. Lake Thetis cyanobacteria exhibit a spectrum of mineralisation processes that include early precipitation of Mg-silicates, largely controlled by the morphochemical features of the cyanobacteria, followed by aragonite formation that is inferred to be driven by heterotrophic activity. Fossilised cyanobacteria with high-quality morphological preservation are characterised by a significant volume of authigenic Mg-silicates, which have preferentially nucleated in/on extracellular organic material and on cell walls, and now replicate the region once occupied by the cyanobacterial sheath. In such specimens, aragonite is restricted to the outer sheath margin and parts of the cell interior. Cyanobacteria that display more significant degradation appear to possess a higher ratio of aragonite to Mg-silicate. In these specimens, aragonite forms micronodules in the sheath zone and is spatially associated with the inferred remains of heterotrophic bacteria. Aragonite also occurs as an advancing front from the outer margin of the sheath where it is commonly intergrown with Mg-silicates. Where there is no evidence of Mg-silicates within filaments, the fidelity of microfossil preservation is poor. In these cases, individual filaments may no longer be visible under light microscopy, and little organic material remains, but filament traces remain detectable using electron microscopy due to variations in aragonite texture. These data provide further evidence that authigenic silicate minerals play a crucial role in the fossilisation of micro-organisms; in their absence, carbonate crystal growth potentially mediated by heterotrophic microbial decay may largely obliterate morphological evidence for life within stromatolites, although mineralogical traces may still be detectable using electron microscopy.",
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Mineralisation of filamentous cyanobacteria in Lake Thetis stromatolites, Western Australia. / Wacey, D.; Urosevic, L.; Saunders, M.; George, A. D.

In: Geobiology, Vol. 16, No. 2, 03.2018, p. 203-215.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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