The initial lamination in young, metabolically active Scytonema knobs developing in Storr's Lake (Bahamas) results from the iterative succession of two different stages of microbial growth at the top of this microbialite. Stage 1 is dominated by vertically oriented cyanobacterial filaments and is characterized by a high porosity of the fabric. Stage 2 shows a higher microbial density with the filaments oriented horizontally and with higher carbonate content. The more developed, dense microbial community associated with Stage 2 of the Scytonema knobs rapidly degrades extracellular organic matter (EOM) and coupled to this, precipitates carbonate. The initial nucleation forms high-Mg calcite nanospheroids that progressively replace the EOM. No precipitation is observed within the thick sheath of the Scytonema filaments, possibly because of strong cross-linking of calcium and EOM (forming EOM-Ca-EOM complexes), which renders Ca unavailable for carbonate nucleation (inhibition process). Eventually, organominerals precipitate and form an initial lamina through physicochemical and microbial processes, including high rates of photosynthetic activity that lead to 13C-enriched DIC available for initial nucleation. As this lamina moves downward by the iterative production of new laminae at the top of the microbialite, increased heterotrophic activity further alters the initial mineral product at depth. Although some rare relic preservation of ‘Stage 1–Stage 2’ laminae in subfossil knobs exists, the very fine primary lamination is considerably altered and almost completely lost when the knobs develop into larger and more complex morphologies due to the increased accommodation space and related physicochemical and/or biological alteration. Despite considerable differences in microstructure, the emerging ecological model of community succession leading to laminae formation described here for the Scytonema knobs can be applied to the formation of coarse-grained, open marine stromatolites. Therefore, both fine- and coarse-grained extant stromatolites can be used as model systems to understand the formation of microbialites in the fossil record.