Carbonaceous bedded cherts of the late Neoproterozoic (Cryogenian) ∼800 to 750 Ma old Chichkan Formation of South Kazakhstan contain an abundant, diverse assemblage of exquisitely preserved microorganisms. Like many Proterozoic microbiotas, the Chichkan assemblage is dominated by prokaryotic cyanobacteria, both filamentous (oscillatorialeans and nostocaleans, represented primarily by cellular trichomes and empty sheaths) and coccoidal (chroococcaleans and pleurocapsaleans, including solitary, colonial, and stalk-forming specimens). However, unlike Proterozoic microbiotas reported from peritidal settings, the Chichkan fossils, permineralized in cherts deposited in the open shelf facies of the formation, include diverse microscopic eukaryotes: vase-shaped testate amoebae, spiny (acanthomorphic) phytoplanktonic unicells, large (up to ∼1 mm diameter) megasphaeromorphic acritarchs, and sausage-shaped vaucheriacean green alga-like filaments.
Given the composition of this biota and the presence in it and similarly aged assemblages of numerous taxa typical of late Neoproterozoic deposits (e.g., Cerebrosphaera, Jacutianema, Melanocyrillium, Stictosphaeridium, Trachyhystrichosphaera, and Vandalosphaeridium), the Chichkan Lagerstätte appears representative of the Cryogenian biota as now known, thereby documenting the status of the marine biosphere at a time closely preceding the radiation of the Metazoa. As such, we interpret this and other coeval mixed assemblages of prokaryotic and eukaryotic microfossils as representing an evolutionary stage transitional between the predominantly prokaryote-dominated Precambrian and the eukaryote-dominated Phanerozoic biospheres.
As reported here, the Chichkan assemblage is composed of 39 taxa (of which two forms are described informally) that are assigned to 23 genera of microscopic prokaryotes and eukaryotes and that include two new species: Polybessurus crassus n. sp. and Vandalosphaeridium koksuicum n. sp.