Criteria for Distinguishing Microbial Mats and Earths
Published:January 01, 2012
Microbial earths are communities of microscopic organisms living in well-drained soil. Unlike aquatic microbial mats and stromatolites, microbial earths are sheltered from ultraviolet radiation, desiccation, and other surficial hazards within soil cracks and grain interstices. Currently, such ecosystems are best known in small areas of unusually cold, hot, or saline soils unfavorable to multicellular plants and animals. During the Precambrian, microbial earths may have been more widespread, but few examples have been reported. This review outlines a variety of features of modern microbial earths that can be used to distinguish them from aquatic microbial mats and stromatolites in the fossil record. Microbial earths have vertically oriented organisms intimately admixed with minerals of the soil, whereas microbial mats are laminated and detachable from their mineral substrate as flakes, skeins, and rollups. Microbial earths have irregular relief, healed desiccation cracks, and pressure ridges, whereas microbial mats have flexuous, striated domes, and tufts. Microbial earths form deep soil profiles with downward variations in oxidation, clay abundance, and replacive nodular subsurface horizons, whereas microbial mats form as caps to unweathered, chemically reduced sedimentary layers. Microbial earths develop increasingly differentiated soil profiles through time, whereas microbial mats build upward in laminar to domed increments. Microbial earths are found in nonmarine sedimentary facies, whereas microbial mats form in lacustrine, floodplain, and marine sedimentary facies. Microbial mats and stromatolites are known back to the oldest suitably preserved sedimentary rocks in the 3458 Ma Apex Chert and 3430 Ma Strelley Pool Formation (respectively) of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The geological antiquity of microbial earths extends back to 2760 Ma in the Mount Roe paleosol of the Hamersley Group near Whim Creek, Western Australia.
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Microbial Mats in Siliciclastic Depositional Systems Through Time
The research field on microbial mats in siliciclastic environmental settings has greatly developed since its establishment by studies of pioneering scientists such as Gisela Gerdes, Wolfgang Krumbein, Jürgen Scheiber, David Bottjer and others. This SEPM Special Publication is the result of the SEPM Research Conference on Sandy Microbial Mats (modern and ancient), which was held in May 21-23, 2010 at Dinosaur Ridge, Denver, Colorado, USA. This volume presents peer reviewed individual case studies on microbial mats and on sedimentary structures (often called “microbially induced sedimentary structures-MISS”) that occur in modern and ancient marine and terrestrial environments. The conference brought together sedimentologists, microbiologists, and paleontologists from 30 countries and all five continents.