Stromatolite

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Stromatolites (from Greek στρώμα, strōma, mattress, bed, stratum, and λιθος, lithos, rock) are layered accretionary structures formed in shallow water by the trapping, binding and cementation of sedimentary grains by biofilms of microorganisms, especially cyanobacteria (commonly known as blue-green algae).[1] They include some of the most ancient records of life on Earth.

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Morphology

A variety of stromatolite morphologies exist including conical, stratiform, branching, domal,[2] and columnar types. Stromatolites occur widely in the fossil record of the Precambrian, but are rare today. Very few ancient stromatolites contain fossilized microbes. While features of some stromatolites are suggestive of biological activity, others possess features that are more consistent with abiotic (non-organic) precipitation. Finding reliable ways to distinguish between biologically-formed and abiotic (non-biological) stromatolites is an active area of research in geology.

Fossil record

Stromatolites were much more abundant on the planet in Precambrian times. While older, Archean fossil remains are presumed to be colonies of single-celled blue-green bacteria, younger (that is, Proterozoic) fossils may be primordial forms of the eukaryote chlorophytes (that is, green algae). One genus of stromatolite very common in the geologic record is Collenia. The earliest stromatolite of confirmed microbial origin dates to 2.724 billion years ago.[3] A recent discovery provides strong evidence of microbial stromatolites extending as far back as 3,450 million years ago.[4] [5]

Stromatolites are a major constituent of the fossil record for about the first 3.5 billion years of life on earth,[6] with their abundance[verification needed] peaking about 1.25 billion years ago. They subsequently declined in abundance and diversity, which by the start of the Cambrian had fallen to 20% of their peak. The most widely-supported explanation is that stromatolite builders fell victims to grazing creatures (the Cambrian substrate revolution), implying that sufficiently complex organisms were common over 1 billion years ago.[7][8][9]

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