Microbial biofilms and the preservation of the Ediacara biota

Marc Laflamme, James D Schiffbauer, Guy M. Narbonne, Derek E.G. Briggs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

90 Citations (Scopus)


The terminal Neoproterozoic Ediacaran Period is typified by the Ediacara biota (ca. 579-542Ma), which includes the first morphologically complex macroscopic organisms. Both the taphonomic setting that promoted the preservation of the soft-bodied Ediacara biota in coarse-grained sediments, and the influence of associated microbial coatings on this process, have generated debate. Specimens of Ediacaran discs (Aspidella) from the Fermeuse Formation of Newfoundland, Canada, were analysed using environmental scanning electron microscopy (ESEM) and focused ion beam electron microscopy (FIB-EM) to determine the relationship between the fossil specimens and the surrounding sediment. The presence of chemically distinct (Al-Mg-Fe-K- and to a lesser extent S-rich), finer-grained sediment (with organized iron sulphides) surrounding the upper and lower margins of the Ediacaran fossils is consistent with elemental analyses of well preserved bacterial biofilms from other localities. ESEM analyses reveal a contrast in the composition of the sediment bound within the discs, which contains a higher concentration of Al, Ca and K, and the purer Si-rich sediment that forms the surrounding matrix. This suggests that the coarse grained sediment was incorporated into the organism during life. Ediacaran discs were likely surrounded by a bacterial biofilm or thin microbial mat composed primarily of extracellular polymeric substances (or exopolysaccharide) during life, which added structural stability to these frond holdfasts, and facilitated their fossilization. Microbially mediated preservation in Fermeuse-style Ediacaran taphonomy provides an explanation for the dominance of Aspidella holdfasts in these settings, and suggests that preservation of Ediacaran fossils in the round may be much more prevalent than previously recognized. We suggest that the overwhelming dominance of circular to bulbous forms such as Aspidella in Ediacaran biotas around the world is a direct result of the interplay between microbial ecology and microbially mediated taphonomy. □Aspidella, Ediacaran preservation, environmental scanning electron microscopy, focused ion beam electron microscopy, palaeoecology, taphonomic bias.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-213
Number of pages11
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011
Externally publishedYes

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