A Walk Through Time

Abundant Life

2000 Million Years Ago

Fossil records reflect the abundance of life. Total anaerobes bury themselves as deeply as they can in their communities. Strains of cyanobacteria, poisoned by their own oxygen waste, team up with populations of respiring bacteria which immediately slurp up the oxygen so toxic to their cousins.

Off and running in waves of innovation, aerobes’ new-found energies allow them to experiment. They forge new niches, specialize, and try new sorts of lifestyles. Some bud motile offspring who, although clones, look nothing like the parent. These baby bacteria swim to a favorable location, attach to a solid surface, and “metamorphose” back into parental form.

Top: Year after year, layers of photosynthesizers and their followers pile up. This hand-sample of a contemporary mat community reflects over 100 years of stable community growth.

Bottom: This fine chert of Gunflint Iron Formation sports a profusion of stellate (star-shaped) and ovoid microorganism fossils. A complicated assemblage of bacterial communities have lain preserved, locked in the rocks of the formation for 2,000 million years. (Photography by Stanley Awramik, top and bottom-left, Lynn Margulis, bottom-center, and Gonzalo Vidal, bottom-right)

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