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Keywords:

  • Biofilms;
  • biostabilization;
  • condensed fibrillar meshworks;
  • microbial mats;
  • sedimentary structures;
  • thrombolitic fabrics

A catalogue of microbial structural signatures is presented, based upon the coupling of fundamental biogeochemical–microbial processes and local morphogenetic determinants. It summarizes a collection of sedimentary structures obtained from two modern siliciclastic peritidal environments in different climatic zones (temperate humid: Mellum Island, southern North Sea; subtropical arid: coast of southern Tunisia). Textural geometries reveal a high structural diversity, but their determinants are primarily based upon six major parameters: (1) intrinsic biofactors: structural diversification of sedimentary microbial films and mats inherent in the organisms, i.e. their construction morphology, growth, taxis and behaviour, and local abundance of specific morphotypes. Most prominent are the ensheathed filamentous cyanobacteria Microcoleus chthonoplastes and Lyngbya aestuarii, and the sheathless filamentous cyanobacterium Oscillatoria limosa. (2) Biological response to physical disturbances: sediment supply, erosion and fracturing of surface layers resulting from desiccation cause growth responses of biofilms and microbial mats. (3) Trapping/binding effects: physicobiological processes give rise to grain orientations and wavy to lenticular lamina, lamina-specific grain arrangements and ‘sucrose’ calcium carbonate accumulations. (4) Secondary physical deformation of biogenic build-ups: mechanical stresses acting upon sediments overgrown and biostabilized by biofilms and mats produce erosional and overthrust structures. (5) Post-burial processes: textural fabrics that evolve from mechanical effects of gas formation from decaying mats, and features related to the formation of authigenic minerals (calcium carbonates, calcium sulphates, pyrite). (6) Bioturbation and grazing: post-depositional structures, such as Skolithos-type dwellings, traces of burrowing insects, gastropod grazing traces and faecal pellets. In synopsis, the catalogue firstly comprises a sound set of ubiquitous signatures. This uniformity in architectural characteristics is attributed to the presence and local dominance of certain microbes throughout the different settings. The catalogue secondly documents signatures that are extremely sensitive to tidal position, hydrodynamic regime and overall climatic conditions. These kinds of signature indicate narrow facies zones, which often coincide with the activity or dominance zones of certain organisms. An overview of structures of microbial origin from the fossil record underlines the potential of many of the signatures included in this catalogue to become fossilized and provide strong indicators of former siliciclastic tidal settings.