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Global deglaciation and the re-appearance of microbial matground-dominated ecosystems in the late Paleozoic of Gondwana


Corresponding author: L. A. Buatois. Tel.: 1 306 966 5730; fax: 1 306 966 8593; e-mail:


The extensive matgrounds in Carboniferous-Permian open-marine deposits of western Argentina constitute an anachronistic facies, because with the onset of penetrative bioturbation during the early Paleozoic microbial mats essentially disappeared from these settings. Abundant microbially induced sedimentary structures in the Argentinean deposits are coincident with the disappearance of trace and body fossils in the succession and with a landward facies shift indicative of transgressive conditions. Deposits of the Late Carboniferous–Early Permian glacial event are well developed in adjacent basins in eastern Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and Antarctica, but do not occur in the western Andean basins of Argentina. However, the deglaciation phase is indirectly recorded in the studied region by a rapid rise in sea level referred to as the Stephanian-Asselian transgression. We suggest that an unusual release of meltwater during the final deglaciation episode of the Gondwana Ice Age may have dramatically freshened peri-Gondwanan seas, impacting negatively on coastal and shallow-marine benthic faunas. Suppression of bioturbation was therefore conducive to a brief re-appearance of matground-dominated ecosystems, reminiscent of those in the precambrian. Bioturbation is essential for ecosystem performance and plays a major role in ocean and sediment geochemistry. Accordingly, the decimation of the mixed layer during deglaciation in the Gondwana basins may have altered ecosystem functioning and geochemical cycling.