Microbialites provide some of the oldest direct evidence of life on Earth. They reached their peak during the Proterozoic and declined afterward. Their decline has been attributed to grazing and/or burrowing by metazoans, to changes in ocean chemistry, or to competition with other calcifying organisms.
The freshwater microbialites at Laguna Bacalar (Mexico) provide an opportunity to better understand microbialite growth in terms of interaction between grazing organisms versus calcium carbonate precipitation. The Laguna Bacalar microbialites are described in terms of their distinct mesostructures. Stromatolites display internal lamination, attributed to the precipitation of calcite and the upward migration of cyanobacteria during periods of low sedimentation. Thrombolitic stromatolites show internal lamination in addition to internal clotting. The clotting is seen as a result of binding and/or trapping of micritic peloids by cyanobacteria and attributed to periods of high sedimentation. The carbonates in both microbialites had similar C- and O-stable–isotopic signatures, both enriched in 13C relative to bivalves, suggesting photosynthetic CO2 uptake was the trigger for carbonate precipitation. This implies that the rate of microbialite growth is largely a function of ambient carbonate saturation state, while the texture is especially dependent on accretion rates and sediment deposition on their surface. Importantly, the coexistence with grazing animals suggests no significant inhibition on microbialite growth, thereby calling into question the decline of microbialite as a result of metazoan evolution. Varying sedimentation rates are likely important in controlling the distribution of thrombolite–stromatolite packages in the geological record, given the importance of this factor at Bacalar.