External controls on the distribution, fabrics and mineralization of modern microbial mats in a coastal hypersaline lagoon, Cayo Coco (Cuba)

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Active, carbonate-mineralizing microbial mats flourish in a tropical, highly evaporative, marine-fed lagoonal network to the south of Cayo Coco Island (Cuba). Hypersaline conditions support the development of a complex sedimentary microbial ecosystem with diverse morphologies, a variable intensity of mineralization and a potential for preservation. In this study, the role of intrinsic (i.e. microbial) and extrinsic (i.e. physicochemical) controls on microbial mat development, mineralization and preservation was investigated. The network consists of lagoons, forming in the interdune depressions of a Pleistocene aeolian substratum; they developed due to a progressive increase in sea-level since the Holocene. The hydrological budget in the Cayo Coco lagoonal network changes from west to east, increasing the salinity. This change progressively excludes grazers and increases the saturation index of carbonate minerals, favouring the development and mineralization of microbial mats in the easternmost lagoons. Detailed mapping of the easternmost lagoon shows four zones with different flooding regimes. The microbial activity in the mats was recorded using light–dark shifts in conjunction with microelectrode O2 and HS− profiles. High rates of O2 production and consumption, in addition to substantial amounts of exopolymeric substances, are indicative of a potentially strong intrinsic control on mineralization. Seasonal, climate-driven water fluctuations are key for mat development, mineralization, morphology and distribution. Microbial mats show no mineralization in the permanently submersed zone, and moderate mineralization in zones with alternating immersion and exposure. It is suggested that mineralization is also driven by water-level fluctuations and evaporation. Mineralized mats are laminated and consist of alternating trapping and binding of grains and microbially induced magnesium calcite and dolomite precipitation. The macrofabrics of the mats evolve from early colonizing Flat mats to complex Cerebroid or Terrace structures. The macrofabrics are influenced by the hydrodynamic regime: wind-driven waves inducing relief terraces in windward areas and flat morphologies on the leeward side of the lagoon. Other external drivers include: (i) storm events that either promote (for example, by bioclasts covering) or prevent (for example, by causing erosion) microbial mat preservation; and (ii) subsurface degassing, through mangrove roots and desiccation cracks covered by Flat mats (i.e. forming Hemispheroids and Cerebroidal structures). These findings provide in-depth insights into understanding fossil microbialite morphologies that formed in lagoonal settings.

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