Get access

Analysis of growth directions of columnar stromatolites from Walker Lake, western Nevada


Corresponding author: V. A. Petryshyn. Tel.: +1 213 740 7653; fax: +1 213 740 8801; e-mail:


Samples of digitate, branching, columnar stromatolites were collected from the steep sides and near horizontal top of four in situ boulders located on the southwestern side of Walker Lake, Nevada, to test the widely held assumption that stromatolite column formation represents a phototropic response. We would predict that the columns on the steeply dipping sides of the boulder would bend upwards toward the light during growth if phototropism was significant during stromatolite morphogenesis. Angle of growth measurements on >300 stromatolites demonstrate that the stromatolites grew nearly normal to their growth surface, regardless of the inclination of their growth surface. No significant differences in the distribution of growth angles between north-, south-, east-, or west-facing samples were observed, and stromatolite lamina thickness did not systematically vary with position on the boulder. The lack of a strong phototropic response does not rule out a biological origin for the Walker Lake structures, but it does suggest that phototropic growth was not a dominant factor controlling stromatolite morphogenesis in these stromatolites and that column formation cannot be uniquely attributed as a phototropic response in stromatolites. It is interesting to note that the morphology of the stromatolites on the top of the boulder is identical to stromatolites on the steep sides. Stromatolite morphogenetic models that predict branching typically require a vertically directed sedimentary component, a feature that would have likely affected the stromatolites on the tops of the boulders, but not the sides, suggesting that other factors may be important in stromatolite morphogenesis.