Abstract

Silicified microbes found on the discharge aprons around modern geysers and hot springs commonly appear to be preserved superbly. This can be attributed to their rapid silicification, which often begins while they are alive. In geological terms, therefore, they are silicified instantaneously. Thus, it might be expected that these microbes should be good replicas of the living organisms and, therefore, easy to identify in terms of extant taxa.

Silicified microbes found on the discharge aprons around geysers and hot springs of North Island, New Zealand, are preserved through replacement and/or encrustation. Organic matter is typically absent, and examples of sheaths being partly replaced or coated by other minerals, such as iron oxide, have not yet been recognized. Accordingly, the cellular-level information needed for microbe identification must be gleaned from features preserved in the silica. Unfortunately, the silicification processes commonly destroy and/or disguise most of the taxonomic features that are necessary for reliable identification in terms of extant taxa. Silicification may, for example, obscure the presence of a sheath and/or significantly alter the size of the microbes. The loss and/or modification of such important taxonomic features means that the identification of silicified microbes is fraught with problems and must be approached with caution.

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