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Environmental niches and metabolic diversity in Neoarchean lakes

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E. E. Stueeken, R. Buick, R. E. Anderson, J. A. Baross, N. J. Planavsky, T. W. Lyons

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The diversification of macro-organisms over the last 500 million years often coincided with the development of new environmental niches. Microbial diversification over the last 4 billion years likely followed similar patterns. However, linkages between environmental settings and microbial ecology have so far not been described from the ancient rock record. In this study, we investigated carbon, nitrogen, and molybdenum isotopes, and iron speciation in five non-marine stratigraphic units of the Neoarchean Fortescue Group, Western Australia, that are similar in age (2.78–2.72 Ga) but differ in their hydro-geologic setting. Our data suggest that the felsic-dominated and hydrologically open lakes of the Bellary and Hardey formations were probably dominated by methanogenesis (δ13Corg = −38.7 ± 4.2‰) and biologic N2 fixation (δ15Nbulk =−0.6 ± 1.0‰), whereas the Mt. Roe, Tumbiana and Kylena Formations, with more mafic siliciclastic sediments, preserve evidence of methanotrophy (δ13Corg as low as −57.4‰, δ13Ccarb as low as −9.2‰) and NH3 loss under alkaline conditions. Evidence of oxygenic photosynthesis is recorded only in the closed evaporitic Tumbiana lakes marked by abundant stromatolites, limited evidence of Fe and S cycling, fractionated Mo isotopes (δ98/95Mo = +0.4 ± 0.4‰), and the widest range in δ13Corg (−57‰ to −15‰), suggesting oxidative processes and multiple carbon fixation pathways. Methanotrophy in the three mafic settings was probably coupled to a combination of oxidants, including O2 and SO42-. Overall, our results may indicate that early microbial evolution on the Precambrian Earth was in part influenced by geological parameters. We speculate that expanding habitats, such as those linked to continental growth, may have been an important factor in the evolution of life.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)767-783
Issue number6
Early online date30 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017

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