Document Type



Biology (CMC), WM Keck Science (CMC), Biology (Pitzer), WM Keck Science (Pitzer), Biology (Scripps), WM Keck Science (Scripps), WM Keck Science

Publication Date



A distinctive suite of small-scale erosional forms that are oriented towards the light occur close to the entrance of Cueva Charles Brewer, a large cave in a sandstone tepui, in SE Venezuela. These are the third example of photokarren ever studied in the world, the other two being from Borneo and Ireland. They are the only photokarren ever described from sandstone, and the only example from a non-carbonate environment. The host rock is a poorly-lithified unit of the Precambrian quartz arenite of the Roraima Supergroup. The forms are all oriented towards the light at 30° regardless of rock surface orientation. The primary (negative) erosional form is the tube. Coalescence of tubes results in the positive remnant forms of rods, pinnacles, and cones. The final stage is a bumpy, wavy surface of degraded cones. The size of the features varies with erosion rate, and details of the form vary with development stage. The main population averages 4.4 cm in depth, with 55% of the surface eroded. This is divided into 10% tubes, 70% rods, 10% cones, 5% linear valley and 5% wavy lowland. The micro-ecosystem includes many bacteria, diatoms, red algae, green algae, liverworts, and oribatid mites, but, surprisingly, no cyanobacteria. The presence of a surface biofilm inside the forms but not on the remnant rock surface and, in the non-degraded forms, the direct relationship of biomass with depth suggests that biological activity is the dominant control on development. In addition, direct bacterial corrosion was noted. These same features occur to varying extents in the photokarren of Borneo and Ireland, and the model for development that we present provides a unifying theory for all photokarren. (This study also includes the first published petrographic analysis of uppermost unit of the Mataui Formation).

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