Microbial mats in the terrestrial Lower Triassic of North China and implications for the Permian-Triassic mass extinction

Daoliang Chu, Jinnan Tong, David J. Bottjer, Haijun Song, Huyue Song, Michael J. Benton, Li Tian, Wenwei Guo

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Evidence for microbial mats has been reported repeatedly from marine Lower Triassic rocks, but scarcely mentioned in post-mass extinction terrestrial facies. Here, we report from the terrestrial Lower Triassic Liujiagou Formation in North China the presence of five kinds of microbially induced sedimentary structures (MISS) or sedimentary surface textures, including “old elephant skin” textures, wrinkle structures, palimpsest ripples, “Manchuriophycus” structures and sand cracks. Terrestrial microbial communities that produced these MISS adapted not only to periodically desiccated conditions, but also to the storm-dominated palaeoenvironments in the Liujiagou Formation. The Permian–Triassic mass extinction (PTME) in North China is marked by the die-off of plants, disappearance of coal beds, extinction of pareiasaurs among tetrapods, decreased bioturbation levels and a dramatic change of sedimentary systems through the Sunjiagou Formation. The Sunjiagou Formation recorded the turnover from an ever-wet to a progressively drier and hotter climate and it spans the PTME in North China. Following this mass extinction, MISS became much more common and widespread, suggesting that the mass extinction provided favourable biological and environmental conditions for the development of the MISS in terrestrial ecosystems, especially the decreased bioturbation intensity and grazing pressure associated with increased temperature and climatic drying. In the upper part of the Liujiagou Formation and overlying Heshanggou Formation, the disappearance of MISS coupled with increased bioturbation might indicate an improvement of terrestrial ecosystems and the beginning of the Triassic biotic recovery. However, as the investigation of MISS in space and time through the geological record is in its early stages, further geobiologic and geochemical studies, as well as high-precision isotopic dating from Permian–Triassic terrestrial successions, are needed to fully reveal the timing and pattern of the Early Triassic terrestrial ecosystem reconstruction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)214–231
Number of pages18
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
Early online date10 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2017


  • Microbial mat
  • Microbially induced sedimentary structures (MISS)
  • Early Triassic
  • Terrestrial ecosystem
  • Permian–Triassic mass extinction (PTME)
  • North China

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