LESSONS FROM THE CARBON ISOTOPIC COMPOSITION OF SINGLE ORGANIC WALLED MICROFOSSILS
Our work thus far has focused on analyses of well-preserved microfossils from late Devonian of NY, the Tonian Chuar Group and the Mesoproterozoic Velkerri Formation. In general, OWM δ13C analyses of a single taxon from one sample have a broad δ13C range, in some cases more than 15‰, which underscores the environmental and C-cycle variability contained within the ~kiloyears preserved in one sample compared to the days reflected in the lifetime of one single OWM. In samples where OWM diversity allows for analysis of multiple taxa we observe δ13C differences between OWM types, suggesting ecological differences. In the Late Devonian rocks and the Roper Group average OWM δ13C is higher than bulk rock δ13C by 2 to 10‰, regardless of species. The 13C-enrichment of OWM may be the result of biosynthetic processes (fossil size, wall composition or carbon concentration mechanisms) or related to a shallower water habitat and utilization of 13C-enriched carbon substrates. However, the Chuar Group provides an alternative perspective; the OWM are almost exclusively 13C-depleted relative to bulk rock δ13C, that can be as high as -14‰. In the case of the Chuar Group the origins of the disparities between the bulk rock and OWM δ13C values may be the result of unique OWM ecologies, 13C-enriched detrital OM or processes yet to be revealed. While still in its initial stages, this work has revealed new insights about OWM and their ecosystems, and perhaps more importantly, it is breaking organic carbon into its physically resolvable components to determine where the bulk rock δ13Corg signal resides, and what it means. Thus, this approach has wide utility in addressing other long-standing questions regarding carbon cycle dynamics in deep time.