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Variations in the Properties of Extractable “Humic Matter” and Associated Kerogen in Sediments through Geologic Time: Their Significance for Precambrian Biological Evolution and Paleoecology

Jackson, Togwell A.
Geomicrobiology journal 2018 v.35 no.4 pp. 334-353
Animalia, Archean eon, Cambrian period, Cyanobacteria, Proterozoic eon, algae, autotrophs, carbon, evolution, herbivores, marine sediments, mortality, oxygen, ozone, paleoecology, photosynthesis, physicochemical properties, pigments, stable isotopes
Chemical properties and δ¹³C values of benzene/methanol-extractable “humic matter” and associated kerogen in a large, diverse collection of Precambrian and Phanerozoic sediments from different parts of the world showed complex systematic variations through geologic time, reflecting major developments in the history of Precambrian life, and different kinds of sediment yielded similar patterns of variation. Moreover, certain data differentiate clearly between glacial and nonglacial detrital sediments, or between lacustrine and marine sediments, and some data suggest the occurrence of Precambrian land life. The abundance of aromatic groups and the proportion of aliphatic to aromatic groups in the extracts showed little variation from the early Archean (ca. 3.3 Ga) to the mid-Proterozoic (ca. 1.6-1.3 or 1.3-1.1 Ga), whereupon they increased sharply, peaked ca. 1.1-0.900 Ga, and then plunged to a minimum in the late Proterozoic (ca. 0.800 Ga) or early Phanerozoic. This is interpreted as indicating that cyanobacteria were the dominant photoautotrophs until the mid-Proterozoic, when algae evolved, proliferating until the late Proterozoic, whereupon their populations were depleted by herbivorous metazoans. Nitrogenous aromatic material increased to a maximum ca. 3.4–3.3 Ga and then decreased steadily to ca. 1.3 Ga, suggesting that early Precambrian cyanobacteria were enriched in photoprotective as well as photosynthetic tetrapyrrole pigments owing to the lack of ultraviolet radiation-shielding atmospheric O₂ and O₃. The concentration increased again starting ca. 1.3–0.800 Ga, reflecting the rise of algae, peaked ca. 0.680 Ga, and dropped catastrophically to a much lower value in the Cambrian (ca. 0.510 Ga), suggesting mass mortality at the Precambrian-Cambrian boundary.