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Morphology and ultrastructure of epilithic versus cryptic, microbial growth in lower Cambrian phosphorites from the Montagne Noire, France


Corresponding author: J. Javier Álvaro. Tel.: 0034915206410; fax: 0034915201074; e-mail:


The lower Cambrian grainy phosphorites of the northern Montagne Noire occur interbedded with grey to black, laminated to massive shales and limestones deposited along the edge of a continental shelf, associated with slope-related facies and unstable substrates. The concentration of phosphate took place by repeated alternations of low sedimentation rates and condensation (hardgrounds), in situ early-diagenetic precipitation of fluorapatite, winnowing and polyphase reworking of previously phosphatized skeletons and hardground-derived clasts. The succession of repeated cycles of sedimentation, phosphate concentration, and reworking led to multi-event phosphate deposits rich in allochthonous particles. Phosphogenesis was primarily mediated by microbial activity, which is evidenced by the abundance of phosphatized putative microbial remains. These occur as smooth and segmented filaments, sheaths, and ovoid-shaped coccoids. These simple morphologies commonly form composite frameworks as a result of their aggregation and entanglement, leading to the record of biofilms, microbial mats, and complex networks. These infested the calcitic skeletonized microfossils that littered the substrate. Microbial activity evidences epilithic (anisotropic coatings on skeletons), euendolithic (perforating skeletal walls), and cryptoendolithic (lining inter- and intraparticulate pores) strategies, the latter dominated by bundles of filaments and globular clusters that grew along the cavities of helcionellids and hyoliths. According to their epilithic versus cryptic strategies, microbial populations that penetrated and dwelled inside hard skeletal substrates show different network and colonial morphologies. These early Cambrian shell concentrations were the loci of a stepwise colonization made by saprophytic to mutualistic, cyanobacterial–fungal consortia. Their euendolithic and cryptoendolithic ecological niches provided microbial refugia to manage the grazing impact mainly led by metazoans.

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