Increasingly, microbial communities are recognized for playing a potentially important role in defining and modifying surface sediment characteristics in various settings, ranging from terrestrial, through marginal marine, to continental margins. Whereas, the presence of microbial mats can be established with comparative ease in modern terrigenous clastics, their recognition in sedimentary rocks poses a big challenge. Terrigenous clastics of the Belt Supergroup (Mid-Proterozoic) show a number of features that can serve as microbial mat indicators: (A) domal buildups; (B) cohesive behavior; (C) wavy-crinkly character of laminae; (D) irregular wrinkled bed surfaces; (E) ripple patches; (F) laminae with mica enrichment; (G) irregular, curved-wrinkled impressions on bedding planes; and (H) lamina-specific distribution of early diagenetic minerals (dolomite, ferroan carbonate, pyrite). Positive identification of a fossil microbial mat requires one to find microbial filaments in life position. This is a difficult task even in the case of very favorable preservation of organic matter, and impossible to accomplish in many instances where fossil microbial mats are suspected. Nonetheless, the above features (especially when found in combination) are highly suggestive of microbial mats, and can serve as guides to sediments that may have accumulated under the influence of microbial mats. Whereas the Belt Basin examples are all from shallow-water environments, microbial mats may also have played an important role in deeper-water oxygen-deprived settings-the realm of black shale formation. In areas of modern oxygen-minimum zones, microbial mats have been found to thrive at the seafloor, profoundly influencing the chemistry of the sediment/water interface and sediment stability. Possible ancient analogs occur in a variety of black shale deposits (e.g. Jet Rock, Monterey Formation, Green River Formation), with wavy to crinkly kerogen-rich laminae being the main indication of possible microbial mat origins. Although microbial mats clearly have the ability to thrive in black shale environments, it will require more research to firmly establish whether, and how extensively, they occupied this niche in the geologic past.

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