Late Devonian marine anoxia challenged by benthic cyanobacterial mats


Corresponding author: J. Kazmierczak. Tel.: +48 22 6978 887; fax: +48 620 62 25; e-mail:


Mass occurrence of benthic cyanobacterial mats in a sequence of Late Devonian black shales and bituminous limestones of the Holy Cross Mts. (central Poland), enclosing the famous Kellwasser and Hangenberg extinction horizons, is reported. The microbiota forming the mats is compared with some modern benthic chroococcalean cyanobacteria. Similarly to their extant counterparts, the Devonian cyanobacteria must had been phototrophic and oxygenic aerobes which could, however, tolerate slightly sulfidic conditions characterizing the near-bottom waters of the Late Devonian epicontinental sea. The cyanobacterial mats successfully colonized the oxygen-deficient and H2S-enriched seabed otherwise unfavorable for most other benthic biota. The redox state of this sluggish Late Devonian sea, ascribed previously mostly to anoxic or euxinic conditions, is reassessed as probably pulsating between anoxic, dysoxic, and weakly oxic conditions. The redox state was dependent on the rate of oxygen production by the cyanobacterial mats, the intensity of H2S emissions from the decaying mat biomass, and the rate of planktonic production.