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Am J Sci. 1990;290-A:261-94.

Shell structure and distribution of Cloudina, a potential index fossil for the terminal Proterozoic.

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  • 1Botanical Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA.


Cloudina-bearing biosparites and biomicrites in the lower part of the Nama Group, Namibia, contain a wide morphological diversity of shell fragments that can all be attributed to the two named species C. hartmannae and C. riemkeae. The curved to sinuous tubular shells of Cloudina were multi-layered. Each shell layer was 8 to 50 micrometers thick and in the form of a slightly flaring tube with one end open and the other closed. Growth appears to have been periodic with successive shell layers forming within older layers. Each added layer was slightly elevated from the previous layer at the proximal end and was asymmetrically placed within the older layer so that only a portion of the new shell layer was fused to the previous layer. This type of growth left a relatively large unminerialized area between the shell layers which was often partially or fully occluded by early marine cements. The thin shell layers exhibit both plastic and brittle deformation and were likely formed of a rigid CaCO3-impregnated organic-rich material. Often the shell layers are preferentially dolomitized suggesting an original mineralogy of high-magnesian calcite. Both species in the Nama Group formed thickets, or perhaps bioherms, and this sedentary and gregarious habit suggests that Cloudina was probably a filter-feeding metazoan of at least a cnidarian grade of organization. The unusual shell structure of Cloudina gives rise to a characteristic suite of taphonomic and diagenetic features that can be used to identify Cloudina-bearing deposits within the Nama Group and in other terminal Proterozoic deposits around the world. Species of Cloudina occur in limestones from Brazil, Spain, China, and Oman in sequences consistent with a latest Proterozoic age assignment. In addition, supposed lower Cambrian, pre-trilobitic, shelly fossils from northwest Mexico and the White-Inyo Mountains in California and Nevada, including Sinotubulites, Nevadatubulus, and Wyattia, are all either closely related to or con-generic with Cloudina. Hence, it is probable that these outcrops are latest Proterozoic in age, and that Cloudina or Cloudina-like organisms were widely distributed at that time. It is possible, moreover, to suggest that metazoan biomineralization occurred on a global scale by the latest Proterozoic, at the same time that evidence for complex multicellularity and locomotion in animals appears in siliciclastic "Ediacaran" rocks in the form of body and trace fossils.

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