The origin of sedimentary organic matter (kerogen) has been attributed to random recombination reactions of biological components in sediments or to selective preservation of decay-resistant macromolecules. Neither hypothesis explains the aliphatic composition of the cuticle of fossil arthropods. Thermal maturation experiments on modern arthropods, involving confined pyrolysis at 250–360 °C, degrade the chitin-protein complex of the cuticle and transform free aliphatic components into a polymeric structure. The results of the application of electron microscopy and spectroscopic methods to modern, thermally matured, and fossil arthropod cuticles indicate that in situ polymerization of free and ester-bound cuticular lipids can lead to kerogen formation. Thus, fossil arthropod fragments can contribute to sedimentary organic matter.

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