Morphological Changes in Microscopic–Megascopic Life and Stromatolites Recorded During Late Palaeoproterozoic–Neoproterozoic Transition: The Vindhyan Supergroup, India

  • Purnima SrivastavaEmail author
  • Vinod Chandra Tewari
Part of the Cellular Origin, Life in Extreme Habitats and Astrobiology book series (COLE, volume 18)


The Palaeoproterozoic to Neoproterozoic era (1,700–542 Ma) is a significant time of transition, reflecting major biotic events in the evolution of life at global level. This time has been marked by the domination of cyanobacterial prokaryotic community, emergence of eukaryotes and their subsequent radiation, transition from microscopic to megascopic life, emergence of metazoan and metaphytes (evolution from plant to animal clades) and evolution from unicellular to multicellular organization. Recent palaeobiological studies in the Vindhyan Supergroup, India, provide substantial data to establish evolutionary history of the Proterozoic life. The available fossil record throws light on biological/morphological changes at microscopic to megascopic level in different time frames in the Vindhyan Supergroup. Palaeoproterozoic to Mesoproterozoic fossil record of the Lower Vindhyans is marked by the diversity and domination of benthic cyanobacterial communities such as Eoentophysalis and Siphonophycus (this is also valid to some extent for rarely well-preserved Neoarchean microfossil assemblages; Kazmierczak and Altermann, Science 298:2351, 2002). In Semri Group, Lower Vindhyans, Glenobotrydion, Glaeodiniopsis, Eosynechococcus and Sphaerophycus are the other commonly occurring benthic coccoid forms. On the contrary, the Neoproterozoic life in the Bhander Group, Upper Vindhyans, is dominated by the planktic communities, like Myxococcoides and acritarchs of variable morphologies and dimensions. Presence of akinites/Archaeoellipsoides is very common in Palaeoproterozoic–Mesoproterozoic Vindhyan microfossil assemblages, which are totally absent in Neoproterozoic assemblages. Diverse cellular filaments of cyanobacterial affinity and domination of planktic coccoidal form genera are the common features of Lower Vindhyans. Rapid precipitation instantly entombed fragile trichomes and preserving them as organic-walled fossils, which were silicified prior to the neomorphic alteration of host carbonates. Intermediate carbonaceous fossil forms, exhibiting super-imposed size range of microscopic and megascopic fossils and inferred as the missing link between the evolution from microscopic to megascopic life, have already been recorded (Srivastava, Curr. Sci. 86:644–646, 2004) from the Rewa Group, Upper Vindhyans (Mesoproterozoic age). Neoproterozoic (Upper Vindhyan) microfossil assemblages are marked by the presence of highly diversified eukaryotes, presence of very small-sized, helically coiled filamentous cyanobacteria Obruchevella, a possible Volvox colony, emergence of large-sized acanthomorphs and exceptionally large-sized dividing cell-like unit and many other unidentified complex morphologies. The most important is the recently reported, process-bearing age-marker acanthomorph (of Cryogenian 850–630 Ma), Trachyhystrichosphaera from the Sirbu Shale Formation, Bhander Group, of the Vindhyan Supergroup, Rajasthan (Srivastava, J. Earth Syst. Sci. 118:575–582, 2009).

Among carbonaceous megafossils, branched filaments at meso- to megascopic level, ensheathed Chuaria, Chuaria with a cluster of small spheroids in centre, with excystment structures, association of Chuaria and Tawuia (Kumar, Precambarian Res. 106:187–211, 2001), dichotomously branched megascopic alga and possibly a pre-metazoan organism are the morphologies of Neoproterozoic Vindhyan assemblages. Presence of Ediacaran fossils, algal mat textures and Arumberia (an organosedimentary structure) are the forms already reported from the Bhander Group, suggesting an Ediacaran (630–542 Ma) age for it. Stromatolites are also extensively developed and well preserved in the Vindhyan Supergroup (Valdiya, J. Geol. Soc. India 10:1–25, 1969; Valdiya, Himalayan Geol. 13:181–214, 1989; Kumar, J. Palaeontol. Soc. India 19:24–27, 1976a; Kumar, J. Palaeontol. Soc. India 18:13–21, 1976b; Kumar, J. Palaeontol. Soc. India 23–24:166–184, 1980; Kumar, 1984; Tewari, Himalayan Geol. 13:143–180, 1989; Tewari, J. Palaeontol. Soc. India 48:155–165, 2003a; Tewari, Gondwana Geol. Mag. 7:383–394, 2003b; Raaben and Tewari, Izvestia Acad. Nauk. CCCP Ser. Geol. 7:17–25, 1987). They have been used successfully in the intra- and interbasinal correlation. The Semri Group is characterized by the dominance of Cyathotes coniform stromatolites and Conophyton, while the Upper Vindhyan shows actively branched stromatolites Baicalia sp. and complete absence of coniform stromatolite (Misra and Kumar, 2005; Misra, Stromatolite biostratigraphy of the Vindhyan Basin, Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, 2004; Tewari, Gondwana Geol. Mag. 7:383–394, 2003b). Microscopic as well as megascopic fossils, inferred as eukaryotes (acanthomorphs, multicellular algae and Ediacaran fossils), exhibit maximum diversity in the Bhander Group, the Uppermost Vindhyans. Thus, Vindhyan fossil record indicates gradual evolution and morphological complexity from Palaeoproterozoic to Neoproterozoic time. There is no doubt that palaeobiological, sedimentological and palaeoenvironmental changes collectively prepared the ground for the next major shift in the biosphere near the end of the Proterozoic Eon, i.e. “the Cambrian Explosion” (Knoll and Sergeev, Neues Jahrb. Geol. Palaontol. 195:289–302, 1995).


Stromatolites Palaeoproterozoic Neoproterozoic Vindhyan Supergroup Cyanobacteria Prokaryotic Metazoan Metaphyte Multicellular Organic-walled microfossils Acritarchs Riphean Ediacaran Palaeobiology Chuaria Tawuia Grypania Obruchevella Semri Group Bhander Group 



The authors are grateful to Prof. N.L. Chhabra, Professor and Head Department of Geology, Lucknow University, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India and Prof. B.R. Arora, Director, W.I.H.G., Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India, for providing the facilities and the permission to publish the book chapter. Professors Wladislaw Altermann, Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich, Germany, and Nichlas J. Butterfield, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK, critically reviewed the earlier draft of the chapter and we are indebted to them for constructive criticism and valuable suggestions which improved the present chapter.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre of Advanced Study in GeologyUniversity of LucknowLucknowIndia
  2. 2.Wadia Institute of Himalayan GeologyDehradunIndia

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