Specific micro-weathering features and biochemically derived residues formed by living organisms can be used as biomarkers to infer the presence of biological communities within sedimentary units of ancient ecosystems. We examined basaltic soil minerals from modern cryptogamic ground covers (CGCs) in Iceland and compared these with two early Paleozoic fossil systems. Nine biologically mediated weathering features (BWFs) were identified in modern soils including micron-scale surface trenching and penetrative tunnels, which are attributed to the actions of bacteria, fungi and exudates. Specific BWFs are associated with Fe residues, and with Fe-rich bio-precipitated nodules. Further, putative comparable features and Fe enrichment are identified in palaeosols from the late Silurian (Llansteffan, south Wales) and the Early Devonian (Rhynie chert, Scotland). Although we are cautious about attributing biological affinity to individual isolated features, our results demonstrate the potential of using multiple BWF types as a collective together with their chemical signatures as new proxies to understand community structure and interactions in early terrestrial ecosystems. This new information is the first evidence of interactions between ancient CGC-like organisms and substrate or soil inorganic components in the fossil record, and demonstrates the ability of CGC-like biospheres to contribute to mineral weathering, soil development and biogeochemical cycling during the early Paleozoic.

Supplementary material: Fieldwork geomorphological information and triplot SEM-EDS data are available at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.4373717

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