Keratose sponges in ancient carbonates – A problem of interpretation

Neuweiler F, Kershaw S, Boulvain F, Matysik M, Sendino C, McMenamin M, Munnecke A (2022)

Publication Type: Journal article

Publication year: 2022


DOI: 10.1111/sed.13059


Reports of diverse vermiform and peloidal structures in Neoproterozoic to Mesozoic open marine to peritidal carbonates include cases interpreted to be keratose sponges. However, living keratose sponges have elaborate, highly elastic skeletons of spongin (a mesoscopic end-member of a hierarchical assemblage of collagenous structures) lacking spicules, thus have poor preservation potential in contrast to the more easily fossilized spicule-bearing sponges. Such interpreted fossil keratose sponges comprise diverse layered, network, amalgamated, granular and variegated microfabrics of narrow curved, branching, vesicular–cellular to irregular areas of calcite cement, thought to represent former spongin, embedded in microcrystalline to peloidal carbonate. Interpreted keratose sponges are presented in publications almost entirely in two-dimensional (thin section) studies, usually displayed normal to bedding, lacking mesoscopic three-dimensional views in support of a sponge body fossil. For these structures to be keratose sponges critically requires conversion of the spongin skeleton into the calcite cement component, under shallow-burial conditions and this must have occurred prior to compaction. However, there is no robust petrographic–geochemical evidence that the fine-grained carbonate component originated from sponge mummification (automicritic body fossils via calcification of structural tissue components) because in the majority of cases the fine-grained component is homogenous and thus likely to be deposited sediment. Thus, despite numerous studies, verification of fossil keratose sponges is lacking. Although some may be sponges, all can be otherwise explained. Alternatives include: (i) meiofaunal activity; (ii) layered microbial (spongiostromate) accretion; (iii) sedimentary peloidal to clotted micrites; (iv) fluid escape and capture resulting in bird's eye to vuggy porosities; and (v) moulds of siliceous sponge spicules. Uncertainty of keratose sponge identification is fundamental and far-reaching for understanding: (i) microfacies and diagenesis where they occur; (ii) fossil assemblages; and (iii) wider aspects of origins of animal clades, sponge ecology, evolution and the systemic recovery from mass extinctions. Thus, alternative explanations must be considered.

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Neuweiler, F., Kershaw, S., Boulvain, F., Matysik, M., Sendino, C., McMenamin, M., & Munnecke, A. (2022). Keratose sponges in ancient carbonates – A problem of interpretation. Sedimentology.


Neuweiler, Fritz, et al. "Keratose sponges in ancient carbonates – A problem of interpretation." Sedimentology (2022).

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