Vase-shaped microfossils (VSMs) occur globally in Neoproterozoic rocks, but until now their biological relationships have remained problematic. Exceptionally preserved new populations from the uppermost Chuar Group, Grand Canyon, Arizona, display details of morphology and taphonomy that collectively point to affinities with the testate amoebae. The fossils are tear-shaped tests, ∼20–300 μm long and ∼10–200 μm wide, that are circular in transverse section, expand aborally toward a rounded or slightly pointed pole, and taper orally toward a “neck” that ends in a single aperture. Apertures may be circular, hexagonal, triangular, or crenulate, and may be rimmed by a distinct collar. Approximately 25% of the Chuar VSMs are curved, such that the oral and aboral poles do not lie opposite each other. Tests are preserved as mineralized casts and molds, commonly coated with organic debris or iron minerals, but they were originally composed of nonresistant organic matter. Approximately 1% have a “honeycomb-patterned” wall attributable to the original presence of mineralized scales whose bases were arranged regularly in the test wall. Scale-bearing testate amoebae, such as members of the Euglyphidae, are essentially identical to the honeycomb VSMs, and a close relationship between other Grand Canyon VSMs and additional testate amoebae, both lobose and filose, is likely. The VSM population therefore most likely represents a multispecies assemblage whose spatial association reflects a common habitat and/or taphonomic circumstances that favor test preservation. The assignment of these fossils to the testate amoebae strengthens the case for a major diversification of eukaryotic organisms by mid-Neoproterozoic times and, more significantly, provides the earliest morphological evidence for heterotrophic eukaryotes in marine ecosystems.
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Vol. 26 • No. 3