A diverse metaphyte assemblage from the Neoproterozoic black shales of South China



A fossil assemblage of diverse megascopic benthic algae is well preserved on bedding planes in black siliceous shales of the Neoproterozoic Lantian Formation (upper Sinian) at Lantian village, Xiunng county, Anhui Province, South China. Based on morphological differences, 12 taxa are recognized. Most specimens show both a holdfast and a vegetative thallus, some with dichotomous branching, which reveals that they are multicellular benthic algae. Each type presents a certain morphological appearance, e.g., spheroidal - Chuaria sp., filamentous - Doushantuophyton rigidulum, fan-like - Flabellophyton lantianensis. Four to six different benthic forms and more than 15 individuals are well preserved on the same bed with an area less than 150 cm2. These confirm that a great morphological evolutionary radiation of seaweeds took place no later than the Lantian epoch, with an absolute age around 570 Ma. Growth cycles in Flabellophyton strigata n.sp. reveal that periodical events, such as seasonal variations, occurred in that epoch. A benthic assemblage consisting of three differentiated macroscopic remains is similar to the Miaohe Biota reported from the Doushantuo Formation of the Yangtze Gorges 1200 km away, allowing biostratigraphic correlation of both of these Neoproterozoic Formations.