Microbial mat controls on infaunal abundance and diversity in modern marine microbialites

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Microbialites are the most abundant macrofossils of the Precambrian. Decline in microbialite abundance and diversity during the terminal Proterozoic and early Phanerozoic has historically been attributed to the concurrent radiation of complex metazoans. Similarly, the apparent resurgence of microbialites in the wake of Paleozoic and Mesozoic mass extinctions is frequently linked to drastic declines in metazoan diversity and abundance. However, it has become increasing clear that microbialites are relatively common in certain modern shallow, normal marine carbonate environments—foremost the Bahamas. For the first time, we present data, collected from the Exuma Cays, the Bahamas, systematically characterizing the relationship between framework-building cyanobacteria, microbialite fabrics, and microbialite-associated metazoan abundance and diversity. We document the coexistence of diverse microbialite and infaunal metazoan communities and demonstrate that the predominant control upon both microbialite fabric and metazoan community structure is microbial mat type. These findings necessitate that we rethink prevalent interpretations of microbialite–metazoan interactions and imply that microbialites are not passive recipients of metazoan-mediated alteration. Additionally, this work provides support for the theory that certain Precambrian microbialites may have been havens of early complex metazoan life, rather than bereft of metazoans, as has been traditionally envisaged.

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