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Cambrian reefs in the lower Poleta Formation: a new occurrence of a thick archaeocyathan reef near Gold Point, Nevada, USA

Abstract

The lower member of the Poleta Formation is well known for its abundant archaeocyaths, including an exceptionally preserved reef at Stewart’s Mill in Nevada. Large archaeocyath-bearing reefs are relatively uncommon, with most occurring as small nearshore patch reefs. Here, we describe a new 70 m-thick archaeocyath reef from the lower Poleta Formation, herein referred to as the Gold Point Reef, located near the townsite of Gold Point, Nevada. In spite of broad similarities with the Stewart’s Mill exposure, the Gold Point Reef shows an interplay between shoal and reef development over the ~ 70 m exposure that differs from what is observed at Stewart’s Mill. This reef also preserves a small shelly fauna in its uppermost 10 m, dominated by Hyolithellus. Three successive ecological stages of reef development are observed here: the pioneer stage characterized by a single rare frame-building species; the diversification stage involving about nine species of both frame-building and mud-sticking archaeocyaths; and the final foundering stage represented by one to two species of archaeocyaths and facies indicating reef demise, including abundant grainstone/packstone shoals and a silicified upper bed with a settlement of hyolitheminthes. During the apex of reef development here, there are large modular archaeocyaths, which were able to produce thick secondary skeletal tissue for a firm attachment; these archaeocyaths were capable of building large reefs in a variety of settings. Additionally, the carbon isotope profile recorded in the Gold Point Reef shows similarities to nearby exposures of the equivalent lower Poleta Formation, with the exception of a small negative downturn at the top of the reef that is not found in other locations. Combined with the documentation of facies changes over short lateral distances, the isotope data suggest that archaeocyathan reefs may have been time-transgressive across the shelf during deposition of the lower Poleta. Additionally, our work suggests that both here and globally, the specific biotic assemblage reflected the local influences of the environment on reef development, creating highly variable coeval paleocommunities even within a restricted area.

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All data presented in this research are included in the text, figures or supplemental table.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge Rhiannon Nolan and Olivia Leadbetter for help with field collection, Francis Macdonald for loaning us a field vehicle, and Smith College Geosciences for help funding this field work.

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Correspondence to Sara B. Pruss.

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Pruss, S.B., Slaymaker, M.L., Smith, E.F. et al. Cambrian reefs in the lower Poleta Formation: a new occurrence of a thick archaeocyathan reef near Gold Point, Nevada, USA. Facies 67, 14 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10347-021-00623-2

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Keywords

  • Archaeocyath
  • Series 2
  • The United States
  • Paleoecology
  • Small shelly fossils