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 suite of distinctive freshwater subaerial phosphatic stromatolites is developed close to the northeastern entrance of Deer Cave, Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak, Borneo, in conditions of very low light but ample supply of nutrients from guano. These stromatolites are not particulate; they are composed of alternating layers of more porous and more dense amorphous hydroxylapatite. This biomineralization occurs as moulds of coccoid (the majority) and filamentous (less abundant) cyanobacteria. Mineralization occurs at a pH of ~ 7.0 in the extracellular sheaths and in micro-domains of varying carbonate content in the surrounding mucus of the biofilm. The most recent surfaces that are not yet strongly mineralized show still-living filamentous, coccoid and rod-shaped forms. Trace element composition shows enrichment in metal ions, especially Mn and Zn. The stromatolites are present as horizontal shelves arranged in series on a steep rock face that is vertically under a guano-laden shelf. The rock face undergoes active dissolution from acidic guano drainage water (e.g., pH of 2.43) and from aggressive rainwater from an overhead discharge. However, the rock surface under the stromatolite is protected while the rest of the cliff face is backcut, creating a hoodoo-like effect. The stromatolites are ~ 15–20 cm deep, ~ 4–7 cm thick, and of variable width, generally ~ 50 cm. Eventually, guano and biological detritus in the descending water film lodge in the lee of the stromatolite lip, causing local acidification and erosion of stromatolite and rock on the underside of the ledge. A dynamic equilibrium is established between upward accretion of the fresh surface and destruction at the base such that the base of the stromatolite does not reflect the date of its inception and the stromatolite climbs up the wall.

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