Abstract

Microbial mats have been implicated in exceptional fossil preservation. Few analyses have addressed how these complex-multilayered biofilms promote fossil preservation. The sequence of changes during decay of neon tetra fish were tracked up to 27 months, and their decomposition in mats was compared against nonmat sediments (control fish). Statistically significant differences in quantitative variables (length, width, and thickness) are provided (ANOVA test, in all cases, P < 0.001). Changes in the qualitative features (body-head, fins, scale connection, and eye and body coloration) were phenetically analyzed resulting in two clusters and highlighting that notable differences in decay began at day 15. Mat fish show a delayed decomposition maintaining the external and internal body integrity, in which soft organs were preserved after 27 months as shown by Magnetic Resonance Imaging. We discuss how the organization, structure, and activity of this community are interrelated, favoring exceptional preservation. Microbial mats entomb the fish from the earliest stages, forming a Ca-rich coat over the carcass while embedding it in an anoxic condition. This quick entombment provides important protection against abiotic and/or biotic agents.

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