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ABSTRACT

Drill cores from Holocene reefs on Tahiti (French Polynesia) reveal a framework composed of massive branching acroporids encrusted by coralline algae associated with sessile vermetid gastropods and arborescent foraminifers. Laminated micritic crusts form coatings over coral branches or, more commonly, over related encrusting organisms throughout the cored reef sections; these crusts appear as a major structural and volumetric component of the reef framework. The microbial nature of these micritic crusts is inferred from their typical organic growth forms and geometry, the occurrence of microbial remains and stable isotope measurements. The reef communities accumulated at depths less than 5 m below mean sea level in a high energy environment throughout vertical growth from 7140 ± 170 yr bp to the present. The nature of the involved benthic communities, stable isotope data and high calcification rates of microbially encrusted corals strongly suggest that local environmental conditions have been optimal for reef development for the last 7000 years. The causes of the predominance of microbial communities over actual encrusters (red algae, foraminifers) remain problematic and could be related to short term fluctuations in ecological parameters. Microbial micritic crusts seemingly played a prominent role in protecting the coralgal colonies from bioeroders and grazers and, possibly, in strengthening the framework, due to rapid lithification. The record of similar microbial crusts in other Quaternary reef tracts suggests that microbial communities may have played a more prominent role in Quaternary reefs than presently recognized.