Siliceous sponge expansion and phosphogenesis in a shallow water environment in the Malyi Karatau Range (Kazakhstan) during the Precambrian-Cambrian transition

Michael Tatzel*, Maria Stuff, Gerhard Franz, Dorothee Hippler, Uwe Wiechert, Friedhelm von Blanckenburg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ocean oxygenation during the Precambrian-Cambrian transition is thought to be one of the key factors for the rapid diversification of animals, known as the ‘Cambrian Explosion’. Siliceous sponges inhabiting continental slope settings were capable of shifting the respiratory oxygen demand in the water column to depth, resulting in an increase in oxygen levels of shallow water. To assess the global importance of the impact of ecosystem engineering by sponges, we evaluated the palaeo-environmental conditions that confine sponge expansion using multiple geochemical proxies including silicon and carbon stable isotopes as well as major- and trace elements in cherts and siliceous sedimentary rocks that were deposited in shallow water around the Precambrian-Cambrian transition. We investigated three lithosections in the Malyi Karatau Range in southern Kazakhstan. The lowermost chert samples of these sections are typically characterized by comparably low δ30Si values and exhibit molds of siliceous sponge spicules. Upsection the occurrence of cross-bedding structures and granular phosphorites document the shallowing of the depositional environment, where overall increasing δ30Si values and increasing Al/Si indicate less settlement of sponges and higher suspended particle loads. Corresponding carbon isotope records of the carbonate fraction decrease from near-zero to negative carbon isotope values averaging −5.9‰. The δ13Ccarb values overall coincide with Y/Ho, the redox indicator Ce/Ce*, and mass fractions of carbonate fluorapatite, suggesting that these ratios are predominantly controlled by the mineralization of organic matter in phosphatic sediment. The studied sections document the ecological requirements for sponge settlement and proliferation, such as the presence of a hard substrate and sufficiently low suspended particle concentrations and/or low wave energy. This work suggests that the widespread appearance of karsted surfaces around the Precambrian-Cambrian transition that were subsequently submerged during the Cambrian transgression would have created permissive habitats for sponges and large phosphate deposits. The capability of sponges to oxygenate shallow seawater and extensive phosphorous burial in epicontinental basins are thus feasible mechanisms for the seawater oxygenation around the Precambrian-Cambrian transition.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105830
JournalPrecambrian Research
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020


  • Cherts
  • Late Neoproterozoic
  • Phosphorites
  • Rare earth elements
  • Seawater oxygenation
  • Silicon isotopes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geology
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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