Marine microorganisms as amber inclusions: Insights from coastal forests of New Caledonia

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Abstract

Marine microorganisms trapped in amber are extremely rare in the fossil record, and the few existing inclusions recovered so far originate from very few pieces of Cretaceous amber from France. Marine macroscopic inclusions are also very rare and were recently described from Cretaceous Burmese amber and Early Miocene Mexican amber. Whereas a coastal setting for the amber source forests is generally proposed, different scenarios have been suggested to explain how these marine inclusions can become trapped in a resin of terrestrial origin. These scenarios include an introduction of marine organisms (i) through high tides, (ii) from storms and resulting in flooding of the littoral/estuarine forest floor, (iii) in resin dropped into the sea in mangrove-type settings, or (iv) by wind and sea spray. We investigated the possibility of a wind-driven introduction of marine microorganisms into tree resins using modern coastal conifer forests with the highly resinous Cook pine (Araucaria columnaris) in New Caledonia as a model for the Cretaceous amber forests from France. By exposing fresh resin surfaces on the seaward side of the trees and the collection of older in situ resins, we confirmed that marine microorganisms can become trapped on sea-exposed resin, along with remnants from terrestrial organisms, and salt crystals. We suggest that, for cases where only a few marine inclusions are discovered in an amber deposit, an origin from aeolian background deposition is feasible. However, a more energetic but possibly still aeolian event is likely needed to explain the high numbers of marine microorganisms embedded in pieces of Cretaceous amber from France.

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Schmidt, A. R., Grabow, D., Beimforde, C., Perrichot, V., Rikkinen, J., Saint Martin, S., … Seyfullah, L. J. (2018). Marine microorganisms as amber inclusions: Insights from coastal forests of New Caledonia. Fossil Record, 21(2), 213–221. https://doi.org/10.5194/fr-21-213-2018

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