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Giant Holocene Freshwater Microbialites, Laguna Bacalar, Quintana Roo, Mexico



With more than 10 km of total length, Holocene microbialites in Laguna Bacalar, Mexico, belong to the largest freshwater microbialite occurrences. Microbialites include domes, ledges and oncolites. Domal forms can grow to diameters and heights of 3 m. Microbialites are composed of low magnesium calcite which is, to a large extent, precipitated due to the metabolic activity of the cyanobacteria Homeothrix and Leptolyngbya, and associated diatoms. Photosynthesis removes carbon dioxide and triggers carbonate precipitation. Also, an elevated carbonate concentration in lagoon waters, derived from dissolution of Cenozoic limestone in a karst system, supports carbonate precipitation. Trapping and binding of detrital grains is also observed, but is not as common as precipitation. Bacalar microbialites are largely thrombolitic, however, stromatolitic sections occur as well. The bulk of Bacalar microbialites probably formed in the Late Holocene (ca 1 kyr BP until present). According to 14C dating, microbialites accreted 9 to 8 cal kyr BP; however, these ages may be too old as a result of a strong hard water effect. This effect is seen in 14C ages of living bivalve and gastropod mollusc shells from Bacalar Lagoon, which are 8 to 7 cal kyr BP. The modern associated fauna of microbialites is characterized by low diversity and high abundance of the bivalve mollusc Dreissena sp. and the gastropod Pomacea sp. The abundant grazing gastropods presumably hamper modern microbialite formation. A comparison of Bacalar microbialites with other modern microbialite occurrences worldwide shows only a few patterns: sizes, shapes, microbial taxa, mineralogy, type of accretion and settings including water properties of microbialite occurrences exhibit high variability. A trend may be seen in the grazing metazoa, which are rare to absent in the marine and brackish examples, but apparently present in all the freshwater occurrences of microbialites. Also, freshwater examples are usually characterized by elevated concentrations of carbonate and/or calcium ions in the surrounding waters.