Organically preserved microbial endoliths from the late Proterozoic of East Greenland

Abstract

Diverse microorganisms ranging from cyanobacteria to eukaryotic algae and fungi live endolithically within ooids, hardgrounds and invertebrate shells on the present-day sea floor. These organisms are involved in the mechanical destruction of carbonates, and are useful ecological indicators of water depth and pollution1–3. The Phanerozoic history of microbial endoliths has been elucidated through the study of microborings (the trace fossils of endolithic microorganisms) and rare cellularly preserved individuals1,3,4, but nothing was known of the possible Precambrian evolution of comparable microorganisms until Campbell5 documented the occurrence of microborings in late Proterozoic ooids from central East Greenland. We now report the discovery of large populations of organically preserved endolithic microorganisms in silicified pisolites from the 700–800-Myr-old Limestone–Dolomite Series of East Greenland. This fossil assemblage is significant for three reasons: (1) It confirms the prediction5 that oolites, pisolites and hardgrounds—the substrates for pre-Phanerozoic endoliths—provide a hitherto poorly explored but rewarding set of environments into which the search for early microfossils must be broadened; (2) the assemblage is diverse, containing about 12 taxa of morphologically distinct and previously unknown endolithic cyanobacteria, plus associated epilithic and interstitial populations; and (3) at least six of the fossil populations are indistinguishable in morphology, pattern of development, reproductive biology and inferred ecology from distinctive cyanobacterial species that bore ooids today in the Bahama Banks.

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Knoll, A., Golubic, S., Green, J. et al. Organically preserved microbial endoliths from the late Proterozoic of East Greenland. Nature 321, 856–857 (1986). https://doi.org/10.1038/321856a0

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