Multiscale approach reveals that Cloudina aggregates are detritus and not in situ reef constructions

Akshay Mehra, Adam C. Maloof

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


The earliest metazoans capable of biomineralization appeared during the late Ediacaran Period (635–541 Ma) in strata associated with shallow water microbial reefs. It has been suggested that some Ediacaran microbial reefs were dominated (and possibly built) by an abundant and globally distributed tubular organism known as Cloudina. If true, this interpretation implies that metazoan framework reef building—a complex behavior that is responsible for some of the largest bioconstructions and most diverse environments in modern oceans—emerged much earlier than previously thought. Here, we present 3D reconstructions of Cloudina populations, produced using an automated serial grinding and imaging system coupled with a recently developed neural network image classifier. Our reconstructions show that Cloudina aggregates are composed of transported remains while detailed field observations demonstrate that the studied reef outcrops contain only detrital Cloudina buildups, suggesting that Cloudina played a minor role in Ediacaran reef systems. These techniques have wide applicability to problems that require 3D reconstructions where physical separation is impossible and a lack of density contrast precludes tomographic imaging techniques.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E2519-E2527
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Biomineralization
  • Early life
  • Ediacaran
  • Reefs
  • Three-dimensional reconstructions


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