Abstract

Enigmatic chambered structures have been reported forming reef frames in Cryogenian interglacial carbonates, prior to the commonly acknowledged microbial-metazoan reefs at the terminal Ediacaran, and interpreted as fossils of possible sponge-grade organisms. A better constraint on the affinity of these structures is partly hindered by few analogues in other time periods. This study describes similar structures from peritidal dolostones of the Ediacaran Denying Formation from Yunnan, China. Samples were investigated using optical microscopy and three-dimensional (3-D) reconstruction based on grinding tomography. The Dengying chambered structures are comparable with Cryogenian structures in basic construction, but are not frame building, and show variations in overall shape and inhabiting facies. Two-dimensional (2-D) cross-sections show that thin, homogeneous micritic laminae are the basic building blocks of the chamber walls. Thick walls represent parallel accretion of these laminae, and thin walls developed from the angular growth of a single lamina or merging of multiple laminae. In 3-D space, the laminae primarily correspond to continuous surfaces which sometimes contain sub-circular holes, while a few represent filamentous elements connected to the surfaces. The morphological features and growth pattern of the Dengying chambered structures indicate that they are likely to be calcified microbial constructions rather than skeletal remains of basic metazoans. However, aside from the Cryogenian and Dengying examples, comparable chambered constructions with laminae-based architecture are yet unknown from other fossil or extant microbialites. Further work investigating related structures is needed to determine the microbial consortia and controlling environmental factors that produced these chambered structures.

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