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Trace element perspective into the ca. 2.1-billion-year-old shallow-marine microbial mats from the Francevillian Group, Gabon

Aubineau, Jérémie, El Albani, Abderrazak, Bekker, Andrey, Chi Fru, Ernest ORCID:, Somogyi, Andrea, Medjoubi, Kadda, Riboulleau, Armelle, Meunier, Alain and Konhauser, Kurt O. 2020. Trace element perspective into the ca. 2.1-billion-year-old shallow-marine microbial mats from the Francevillian Group, Gabon. Chemical Geology 543 , 119620. 10.1016/j.chemgeo.2020.119620

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The sedimentary fabrics of Precambrian mat-related structures (MRS) represent some of the oldest convincing evidence for early life on Earth. The ca. 2.1 billion-year (Ga) old MRS in the FB2 Member of the Francevillian basin in Gabon has received considerable attention not only because they contain remnants of microbial mats that colonized large areas in oxygenated, shallow-marine settings, but they also contain evidence for ancient multicellular organisms that thrived on these microbial mats using them as a food source. Despite these insights, what remains lacking is a full characterization of the geochemical composition of the MRS to test whether the bulk composition of fossilized MRS is distinct from the host sediments (sandstones and shales). Here, we show that the trace element (TE) content of microbial textures belonging to pyritized MRS, poorly pyritized MRS, and “elephant-skin” textures (EST) is highly variable and differs from that of the host sediments. The poorly pyritized MRS contain a unique matrix with embedded Ti- and Zr-rich minerals and syngenetically enriched in TE. The EST, some of which are developed along the same stratigraphic horizon as the poorly pyritized MRS, display a distinct distribution of TE-bearing heavy minerals, suggesting a local difference in physical conditions during sedimentation. Similarly, high chalcophile-element (CE) content in pyritized MRS relative to the host sediments of the FB2 Member further points to local bacterially influenced enrichments with high rates of microbial sulfate reduction during early diagenesis. The geochemical relationship between the MRS and the Francevillian sediments (e.g., FB, FC, and FD formations) indicates that specific biological pathways for CE enrichments (i.e., microbially controlled accumulation) are not apparent. Our findings highlight bulk-rock TE distinction between the 2.1-billion-year-old MRS and their host sediments, but also indicate that environmental conditions, such as hydrodynamic regime and water-column redox chemistry, may simply overwhelm any potential biological signal. Our data suggest that the microbial impact may have only passively influenced TE enrichment in the studied sediments, implying that TE concentrations in MRS are a poor biosignature. Importantly, this work indicates that bulk TE geochemistry does not unveil specific microbiological processes in the rock record, which is consistent with the observed patterns in modern analogues.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Earth and Environmental Sciences
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 0009-2541
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 17 April 2020
Date of Acceptance: 3 April 2020
Last Modified: 08 Nov 2023 03:41

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