SciELO - Scientific Electronic Library Online

vol.42 issue3Mineralogical investigations of agates from Cordon de Lila, Chile author indexsubject indexarticles search
Home Pagealphabetic serial listing  

Services on Demand




Related links

  • On index processCited by Google
  • Have no similar articlesSimilars in SciELO
  • On index processSimilars in Google


Andean geology

On-line version ISSN 0718-7106

AndGeo vol.42 no.3 Santiago Sept. 2015 



A silicoflagellate from the middle Albian of Austral Basin, Argentina

Un silicoflagelado en el Albiano medio de la Cuenca Austral, Argentina


Juan Pablo Pérez-Panera1, 2

1 Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET), Laboratorio de Bioestratigrafia, Área de Geo-ciencias, YPF Tecnologia S.A., Baradero s/n, Ensenada, CP 1925, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
2 Cátedra de Micropaleontologia, División Paleozoologia Invertebrados, Museo de La Plata, Paseo del Bosque s/n, La Plata, CP 1900, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

ABSTRACT. Calcareous nannofossil biostratigraphic investigations of Cretaceous sediments within the southern high latitude Austral Basin, Argentina, have revealed the presence of a fragment of a silicoflagellate possibly belonging to the species Variramus aculeifera (Deflandre) McCartney, Wise, Harwood and Gersonde. Although only a fragment was identified in the samples examined from this locality, its presence is important, as it is only the second documented occurrence of an Early Cretaceous silicoflagellate. The specimen was found in a subsurface sample from the informal Palermo Aike Formation at Austral Basin. This stratigraphic level is interpreted as middle Albian on the basis of calcareous nannofossil biostratigraphy. The specimen consists of a fragmented strut with broken spines at the base, which allows the observation of the hollow skeletal structure. The strut is curved and slightly expanded at the widest part, which are characteristics diagnostic of the genus Variramus.

Keywords: Variramus, Albian, Austral Basin, Argentina.

RESUMEN. Estudios sobre nanofósiles calcáreos en sedimentitas cretácicas de la Cuenca Austral, Argentina, revelaron la presencia de un fragmento de un silicoflagelado, posiblemente de Variramus aculeifera (Deflandre) McCartney, Wise, Harwood and Gersonde. A pesar de que se recuperó solo un fragmento, su presencia es importante porque representa el segundo registro de silicoflage-lados del Cretácico Temprano. El espécimen fue hallado en una muestra de subsuelo correspondiente a la Formación Palermo Aike, en la Cuenca Austral. Ese nivel estratigráfico fue interpretado como Albiano medio sobre la base de los nanofósiles calcáreos. El ejemplar corresponde al fragmento de una barra con espinas rotas en la base, que permitieron observar la naturaleza hueca del esqueleto silíceo. La barra es curva y presenta un leve ensanchamiento, dos características diagnósticas del género Variarmus.

Palabras clave: Variramus, Albiano, Cuenca Austral, Argentina.


1. Introduction

Calcareous nannofossil biostratigraphic investigations of Cretaceous sediments within the southern high latitude Austral Basin, Argentina (Perez-Panera, 2012), have revealed the presence of a fragment of a Cretaceous silicoflagellate possibly related to the species Variramus aculeifera (Deflandre, 1950). Silicoflagellates are almost unknown from Lower Cretaceous sediments, so even though this is a single fragment, it is important because it is only the second documented occurrence of an Early Cretaceous silicoflagellate in the world (McCartney, 2013). The specimen comes from a middle Albian sample from Canadon Salto borehole, Austral Basin, Argentina. The investigated samples were provided by Petrobras-Energia S.A. and the name and location of the borehole are confidential; however, figure 1 illustrates its general location within the Austral Basin.


FIG. 1. Location map of Canadon Salto Borehole, Austral Basin, Argentina.


2. Materials and Methods

The sample was prepared according to the gravity settling technique of Bramlette and Sullivan (1961), originally for calcareous nannofossil analysis. A FEI Quanta 200 Scanning Electron Microscope was used for sample examination and photographs. In order to evaluate the composition of both the matrix and the sillicoflagellate, an EDX analysis was completed (Fig. 2), confirming the siliceous composition of the specimen. The sample is deposited in the Museo de La Plata nannopaleontological collection under number MLP-NC 0001.


FIG. 2. Comparison of EDX analysis for the sediment (A) and for the silicoflagellate
specimen (B). Note the differences between the silica (Si) and oxygen (O) peaks, which
are higher for the silicoflagellate (b), illustrating the opaline nature of its skeleton.


3. Stratigraphic provenance

The specimen was recovered from a subsurface sample at 1,200-1,209 m sub-bottom depth (msbd) in the informal Palermo Aike Formation at Austral Basin. This stratigraphic level is interpreted as middle Albian based on calcareous nannofossil biostratigraphy (Pérez-Panera, 2012). The interval between 1,191-1,200 and 1,350-1,352 msbd is correlated with the early to middle Albian Zone CC8 of Sissingh (1977) and the Rhagodiscus asper and Sollasites falklandensis Subzones of Wise (1988). More precisely, the last occurrence of S. falklandensis is identified in sample 1,191-1,200 msbd, just above the sample where the silicoflagellate specimen occurs. Thus, on the basis of calcareous nannofossil biostratigraphy, it is possible to constrain the age of the sample containing the silicoflagellate to the middle Albian (Perez-Panera, 2011).

4. Systematic Palaeontology

Division OCHROPHYTA Cavalier-Smith, 1995
Order DICTYOCHALES Haeckel, 1894 
Family DICTYOCHACEAE Lemmermann, 1901 
Genus: Variramus McCartney, Wise, Harwood and Gersonde, 1990 
Type species: Variramus aculeifera (Deflandre, 1950) 
McCartney, Wise, Harwood and Gersonde, 1990.

Variramus sp. aff. Variramus aculeifera (Deflandre, 1950) McCartney, Wise, Harwood and Gersonde, 1990 (Fig.3).


FIG. 3. Variramus sp. aff. V. aculeifera (Deflandre, 1950) McCartney,
Wise, Harwood and Gersonde, 1990. Canadon Salto Borehole
1200-1209 msbd. MLP-NC 0001.


Description. The recovered specimen consists of a fragmented strut with broken spines at the base, which allows observation of its hollow skeletal structure. The strut is curved and slightly expanded at its widest part, which are diagnostic characteristics of the genus Variramus. It is possible to recognize the base of three spines that are oriented in two different planes. The end of the strut attaches to a basal spine, which is obscured by the surrounding clay matrix, but it is possible to identify the structure as a spine based on its tapered appearance. The opposite end of the strut is broken, possibly at the point where it connects with the bridge. Although this specimen is only a small fragment of the entire individual, it is here compared to Variramus aculeifera based on the curved and expanded strut and the slightly displaced triple joint at the end, which resembles a sabaton. This specimen looks very similar to the specimen illustrated in plate 3, figures 4 and 5, and to the ends of the specimens in plate 2, figures 5 and 8 of McCartney et al. (1990).

Known stratigraphic and geographic range. Early to middle Albian of Weddell Sea, Antarctica, Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Site 693 (McCartney and Wise, 1988; McCartney et al., 1990, 2014); Santo-nian-Campanian of Canadian archipelago, Arctic Ocean (McCartney et al., 2011a, 2011b). Unconfirmed record from the Maastrichtian of California (Deflandre, 1950; Tsumura, 1963, age assignment may be wrong and could be older, see McCartney et al., 1990, 2010, 2011a and McCartney, 2013 for discussion); Campanian-Maastrichtian of Southwest Pacific Ocean, Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP) Site 275, (Bukry, 1975); Campanian-Maastrichtian of Arctic Ocean, Alpha Ridge (Bukry, 1981, 1985), Campanian-Maastrichtian of Tonga Trench, Pacific Ocean (Quinterno et al., 1994).

Dimensions of the specimen. Length: 12.5 µm; width: 1.6 to 2.0 µm.

Provenance. Austral Basin, Cafiadon Salto borehole, 1200-1209 msbd, middle Albian.

5. Discussion

The origin and evolutionary history of silicofla-gellates during the Cretaceous is an interesting but poorly understood subject. In the last two decades, important advances had been made (MacCartney, 2013; MacCartney and Wise, 1988; McCartney et al., 1990, 2010, 2011a, 2011b, 2014), but questions still remain. McCartney et al. (1990) documented an abundant and diverse silicoflagellate assemblage from the lower to middle Albian of the Weddell Sea, indicating an older origin for the group than previously documented. In subsequent studies, McCartney et al., (2010, 2014) demonstrated that this Weddell Sea assemblage is even more diverse than previously thought and includes a variety of species and morphologies assigned to four Albian genera: Gleserocha, Schulzyocha, Vallacerta and Variramus. Recent studies (McCartney et al., 2011a, 2011b, 2014) of upper Santonian-lower Campanian samples from the Canadian archipelago showed that silicoflagellates had experienced a radiation by that time, with the addition of five new genera: Cornua, Umpiocha, Corbisema, Lyramula and Arctyocha. These localities contain the best-known Cretaceous silicoflagellate fossil records, and their discovery has led to a significant increase in our understanding of silicoflagellate evolution (McCartney, 2013; McCartney et al., 2014). By the late Maastrichtian, the oldest silicoflagellate lineages, with the exception of the genus Vallacerta, had become extinct. At the Cretaceous/Paleogene boundary, only Corbisema survived the extinction event, and this genus gave rise to all Cenozoic silicoflagellates (McCartney et al, 2014).

Even though these recent advances have shed light on the origin and early evolution of the silicoflagellates, there are still important gaps in our knowledge. The geographic range of the Cretaceous silicoflagellate records is very small and limited to a few regions from the middle to high latitudes. Until now, the only Early Cretaceous silicoflagellates known were from ODP Site 693 (McCartney, 2013), which contains an early Albian moderately diverse assemblage of silicoflagellates. Silicoflagellates were more abundant and diverse by the late Santonian-early Campanian, but there is currently no known record spanning the Cenomanian to Coniacian. This scarcity of information for the early history of this group makes each new record of vital importance.

The identification of this specimen in a sample of middle Albian age from southern Patagonia represents the second record of a silicoflagellate of Early Cretaceous age, providing a new geographic region to look for clues about the evolution and diversification of this group.


Thanks are given to Lic. M.A. Floridia Addato (YPF-Tecnología S.A., Argentina) for her patient and enthusiastic assistance with the SEM examination and photographs. Dr. K. McCartney (University of Maine, USA) provided important comments that improved an early version of the manuscript. Thanks also go to Dr. R. Gersonde (Alfred Wegener Institute, Germany), whose review also improved the manuscript. The author also thanks Dr. D. Kulhanek (Texas A&M University/ International Ocean Discovery Program, USA) for editorial comments. Financial support was provided by the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET, Argentina) through grant PIP 0021, and YPF-Tecnología S.A. This is a contribution to the Projects PICT 0082, PICT 0771, PDTS1971/Y-TEC I+D+i 602 and Y-TEC I+D+i 620.



Bramlette, M.N.; Sullivan, F.R. 1961. Coccolithophorids and related Nannoplankton of the early Tertiary in California. Micropaleontology 2: 129-188.

Bukry, D. 1975. Silicoflagellate and coccolith stratigraphy. Deep Sea Drilling Project Leg 29. In Initial Reports of the Deep Sea Drilling Project 29, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, 29: 845-872.

Bukry, D. 1981. Cretaceous Arctic silicoflagellates. GeoMarine Letters 1: 57-63.

Bukry, D. 1985. Correlation of late Cretaceous Arctic silicoflagellates from Alpha Ridge. In Initial Geological Report on CESAR - the Canadian Expedition to Study the Alpha Ridge Arctic Ocean (Jackson, H.R.; Mudie, P.J.; Blasco, S.M.; editors). Geological Survey of Canada 84/22: 125-135.

Cavalier-Smith, T. 1995. Evolutionary protistology comes of age: biodiversity and molecular cell biology. Archive für Protistenkunde 145: 145-154.

Deflandre, G. 1950. Contribution à l’étude des Silicoflagellatidés actuels et fossiles (Suite). Microscopie 2: 114-172.

Haeckel, E. 1894. Systematische Phylogenie der Protisten und Pflanzen. Erster Theil des Entwurfs einer systematischen Stammesgeschichte. Verlag von Georg Reimer: i-xvi, 400 p. Berlin

Lemmermann, E. 1901. Silicoflagellatae. Ergebnisse einer Riese nach dem Pacific.-H. Schauinsland 1896/97. Berichte der Deutschen Botanischen Gesellschaft 19: 247-271.

McCartney, K. 2013. A review of past and present research on Cretaceous silicoflagellates. Phytotaxa 127: 190-200.

McCartney, K.; Wise, Jr., S.W. 1988. Silicoflagellates from Ocean Drilling Program leg 113: New fossil evidence of their variability. Antarctic Journal of the United States 23: 85-87.

McCartney, K.; Wise, Jr., S.W.; Harwood, D.M.; Gersonde, R. 1990. An enigmatic lower Albian silicoflagellate from ODP Site 693: Progenitors of the Order Silicoflagellata? In Proceedings of the Ocean Drilling Program, Scientific Results 113, College Station. TX (Ocean Drilling Program) 113: 427-442.

McCartney, K.; Witkowski, J.; Harwood, D.M. 2010. Early Evolution of the Silicoflagellates during the Cretaceous. Marine Micropaleontology 77: 83-100.

McCartney, K.; Witkowski, J.; Harwood, D.M. 2011a. Unusual early assemblages of Late Cretaceous silicoflagellates from the Canadian Archipelago. Revue de Micropaléontologie 54: 31-58.

McCartney, K.; Witkowski, J.; Harwood, D.M. 2011b. Late Cretaceous silicoflagellate taxonomy and biostratigraphy of the Arctic Margin, Northwest Territories, Canada. Micropaleontology 57: 61-86.

McCartney, K.; Witkowski, J.; Harwood, D.M. 2014. New insights into skeletal morphology of the oldest known silicoflagellates: Variramus, Cornua and Gleserocha gen. nov. Revue de Micropaléontologie 57: 75-91.

Pérez-Panera, J.P 2011. The calcareous nannofossil Sollasites falklandensis (Coccolithophyceae) and its biostratigraphic and palaeoceanographic importance in the Albian of Austral Basin, Argentina. Cretaceous Research 32: 723-737.

Pérez-Panera, J.P. 2012 Nanofósiles calcáreos y bioestratigrafía del Cretácico del sudeste de la Cuenca Austral, Patagonia, Argentina. Ameghiniana 49: 137-163.

Quinterno, P. J.; Barron, J.A.; Bukry, D.; Blome, C.D. 1994. Late Cretaceous microfossils in a single dredge haul from the Tonga trench: Evidence of late Cretaceous environment at the Louisville Hotspot. In Geology and Submarine Resources of the Tonga-Lau-Fiji Region (Stevenson, H.J.; Herzer, R.H.; Balance, P.F.; editors). SOPAC, Technical Bulletin 8: 285-291.

Silva, PC. 1980. Names of classes and families of living algae: with special reference to their use in the Index Nominum Genericorum (Plantarum). Regnum Vegetabile 103: 1-156.

Sissingh, W. 1977. Biostratigraphy of Cretaceous calcareous nannoplankton. Geologie en Mijnbouw 56: 37-65.

Tsumura, K. 1963. A systematic study of silicoflagellateae. Yokohama Municipal University Journal, serie C-45, No. 146: 1-84.

Wise, S.W. 1988. Mesozoic-Cenozoic history of calcareous nannofossils in the regeion of the Southern Ocean. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 67: 157-179.


Manuscript received: October 24, 2014; revised/accepted: August 12, 2015; available online: August 13, 2015.


Creative Commons License All the contents of this journal, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License