Terrestrial Ecosystems in the Precambrian

  • Hugo Beraldi-CampesiEmail author
  • Gregory J. Retallack
Part of the Ecological Studies book series (ECOLSTUD, volume 226)


Although Precambrian (>550 Ma old) landscapes have been largely considered devoid of life and do not yield obvious traces indicative of terrestrial fossils (e.g., plant roots), there is now ample evidence for pervasive and diverse microbial communities on land billions of years before the Phanerozoic. Modern “biological soil crusts” or “biocrusts” are excellent analogs for terrestrial Precambrian ecosystems, especially because they develop in plantless deserts, and analogs of Precambrian “barren” lands. They provide an understanding on how ancient, land-based microbial communities could have functioned. Furthermore, biocrust microbes have a variety of adaptations to desiccation and high UV light radiation, which likely evolved well before macroscopic plants and animals. In this chapter, we present evidence for well-developed terrestrial ecosystems during the Precambrian and question conventional narratives that early life on Earth was restricted to aquatic environments. This evidence suggests that microbial life was abundant on the land since the Archean, and that such communities could have been quite complex in structure and functioning. The advancement on this knowledge is essential to better understand the evolution of the biosphere.


Terrestrial Ecosystem Biological Soil Crust Pedogenic Process Rock Record Basal Sandstone 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto de GeologiaUniversidad Nacional Autonoma de MexicoMexico, DFMexico
  2. 2.Geological SciencesUniversity of OregonEugeneUSA

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