Microbial boundstones from Alaska and Russia yield new insights into the paleoecology of Silurian biotas that inhabited stromatolite reefs. These high-energy reefs were built along the Uralian Seaway in the Late Silurian by a diverse suite of microorganisms in association with accessory metazoans, predominantly sphinctozoan sponges. Within the stromatolite framework, three species of small, solitary, sphinctozoans (aphrosalpingids) encrusted a variety of hard substrates, mostly skeletal remains but also microbial laminae and cavity surfaces. Fossils encrusted by the sponges include the problematic hydroid Fistulella, possible stromatoporoids (recrystallized), crinoids, the possible cyanobacterium Ludlovia, corals, and unidentifiable shelly debris. In addition to the ubiquitous microbial laminae, the sponges, Fistulella, and ?stromatoporoids were less commonly encrusted by Ludlovia, Renalcis, or crinoids.
Well-developed attachment surfaces, including enlarged holdfasts, allowed the sponges to achieve stability on the seafloor after larvae settled randomly on available hard surfaces. A greater incidence of sponge encrustations on Fistulella than on other organisms indicates that some of the sponges may have enjoyed a commensalistic relationship while attached as juveniles to a living substrate. The sponges’ orientation on Fistulella in the sediment suggests that the relationship between the two taxa may have become parasitic, whereby the weight of the sponges caused Fistulella to collapse into the muddy substrate. Recognition of the intimate growth relationships shared by Silurian sphinctozoans, Fistulella, and other organisms expands the fossil record of encrusting sponges, identifies a novel sponge-?hydroid association, and reveals organismal responses to competition for space in mid-Paleozoic microbial reefs.