Rhizoliths in terrestrial carbonates: classification, recognition, genesis and significance



    1. Jane Herdman Laboratories of Geology, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, U.K.
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      Gulf Canada Resources Inc., P.O. Box 130, Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 2H7.


Rhizoliths are defined as organosedimentary structures resulting in the preservation of roots of higher plants, or remains thereof, in mineral matter. They are abundant and characteristic features of Quaternary terrestrial carbonates (calcretes and aeolianites) from coastal regions of the western Mediterranean. Field and petrographic observations indicate that five basic types of rhizoliths can be recognized: (1) root moulds, which are tubular voids that outline positions of former, now decayed roots; (2) root casts, which are sediment- and/or cement-filled root moulds; (3) root tubules, which are cemented cylinders around root moulds; (4) rhizocretions s.s., which are pedodiagenetic mineral accumulations (here low magnesian calcite) around living or dead plant roots; and (5) root petrifactions, which are mineral impregnations or mineral replacements of organic matter whereby anatomical features of roots have been preserved partially or totally. Apart from rhizoliths themselves, roots of higher plants are responsible for the formation of numerous and characteristic features of pedogenetically affected terrestrial carbonates. Plant roots are responsible for, or contribute to, the formation of alveolar textures, in situ brecciation (rhizobrecciation) textures, horizontal sheet cracks, vertically elongate glaebules (concretionary soil structures) and micritization (rhizomicritization) within terrestrial carbonates. Rhizoliths, together with the above features, are products of pedodiagenesis. More significantly, rhizoliths and related features are indicators of palaeosols and hence of subaerial vadose environments in ancient (post-Silurian) successions.