Stable isotope signatures of elements related to life such as carbon and nitrogen can be powerful biomarkers that provide key information on the biological origin of organic remains and their paleoenvironments. Marked advances have been achieved in the last decade in our understanding of the coupled evolution of biological carbon and nitrogen cycling and the chemical evolution of the early Earth thanks, in part, to isotopic signatures preserved in fossilized microbial mats and organic matter of marine origin. However, the geologic record of the early continental biosphere, as well as its evolution and biosignatures, is still poorly constrained. Following a recent report of direct fossil evidence of life on land at 3.22 Ga, we compare here the carbon and nitrogen isotopic signals of this continental Archean biosphere with biosignatures of cyanobacteria biological soil crusts (cyanoBSCs) colonizing modern arid environments. We report the first extended δ13C and δ15N data set from modern cyanoBSCs and show that these modern communities harbor specific isotopic biosignatures that compare well with continental Archean organic remains. We therefore suggest that cyanoBSCs are likely relevant analogs for the earliest continental ecosystems. As such, they can provide key information on the timing, extent, and possibly mechanism of colonization of the early Earth's emergent landmasses.
- Carbon isotope
- Early life
- Isotope biosignature
- Nitrogen isotope. Astrobiology 20, 815–819
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
- Space and Planetary Science