Biomineralization by photosynthetic organisms: Evidence of coevolution of the organisms and their environment?


  • J. A. RAVEN,

    1. Division of Plant Sciences, University of Dundee at SCRI, Scottish Crop Research Institute, Invergowrie, Dundee DD2 5DA, UK
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    1. Laboratoria di Fisiologia delle Alghe, Dipartimento di Scienze del Mare, Università Politecnica delle Marche, Via Brecce Bianche, 60131 Ancona, Italy
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Corresponding author: J. A. Raven, Tel.: 44-1382-562731; fax: 44-1382-568575; e-mail:


Biomineralization is widespread among photosynthetic organisms in the ocean, in inland waters and on land. The most quantitatively important biogeochemical role of land plants today in biomineralization is silica deposition in vascular plants, especially grasses. Terrestrial plants also increase the rate of weathering, providing the soluble substrates for biomineralization on land and in water bodies, a role that has had global biogeochemical impacts since the Devonian. The dominant photosynthetic biomineralizers in today's ocean are diatoms and radiolarians depositing silica and coccolithophores and foraminifera depositing calcium carbonate. Abiotic precipitation of silica from supersaturated seawater in the Precambrian preceded intracellular silicification dominated by sponges, then radiolarians and finally diatoms, with successive declines in the silicic acid concentration in the surface ocean, resulting in some decreases in the extent of silicification and, probably, increases in the silicic acid affinity of the active influx mechanisms. Calcium and bicarbonate concentrations in the surface ocean have generally been supersaturating with respect to the three common calcium carbonate biominerals through geological time, allowing external calcification as well as calcification in compartments within cells or organisms. The forms of calcium carbonate in biominerals, and presumably the evolution of the organisms that produce them, have been influenced by abiotic variations in calcium and magnesium concentrations in seawater, and calcium carbonate deposition has probably also been influenced by carbon dioxide concentration whose variations are in part biologically determined. Overall, there has been less biological feedback on the availability of substrates for calcification than is the case for silicification.