Extreme depletions in the 13C content of the total dissolved inorganic carbon (CT) were found in brines overlying microbial mat communities. Total alkalinity (AT) and CT in the brines suggest that intense photosynthetic activity of the microbial mat communities depletes the CT from the brine. We suggest that this depletion drives a large, kinetic, negative fractionation of carbon isotopes similar to that observed in highly alkaline solutions. In brines of extreme salinity where microbial mat communities no longer exist, the 13C content of the CT increases, probably because photosynthesis no longer dominates the gas-exchange processes. This mechanism explains light carbon-isotope compositions of carbonate rocks from evaporitic sections and bears on the interpretation of δ13C values in bedded stromatolitic limestones that are ca. 3.5 b.y. old.