Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 June 2012
Precambrian rocks comprise nearly one-quarter of the surface of Brazil and range from Paleoarchean (ca. 3.6 Ga) to the latest Ediacaran (0.542 Ga) in age. Except for controversial phosphatized ‘embryo-like’ microfossils like those from the lower Ediacaran Doushantuo Formation, China and complex rangeomorphs, Brazilian research has revealed all major categories of Precambrian life forms described elsewhere – microbialites, biomarkers, silicified microfossils, palynomorphs, vase-shaped microfossils, macroalgae, metazoans, vendobionts and ichnofossils – but the paleobiological significance of this record has been little explored. At least four occurrences of these fossils offer promise for increased understanding of the following aspects of Precambrian biospheric evolution: (i) the relationship of microbialites in 2.1–2.4 Ga old carbonates of the Minas Supergroup in the Quadrilátero Ferrífero, Minas Gerais (the oldest Brazilian fossils) to the development of the early oxygenic atmosphere and penecontemporaneous global tectonic and climatic events; (ii) the evolutionary and biostratigraphic significance of Mesoproterozoic to Ediacaran organic-walled microfossils in central–western Brazil; (iii) diversity and paleoecological significance of vase-shaped heterotrophic protistan microfossils in the Urucum Formation (Jacadigo Group) and possibly the Bocaina Formation (Corumbá Group), of Mato Grosso do Sul; and (iv) insights into the record of skeletogenesis and paleoecology of latest Ediacaran metazoans as represented by the abundant organic carapaces of Corumbella and calcareous shells of the index fossil Cloudina, of the Corumbá Group, Mato Grosso do Sul. Analysis of the Brazilian Precambrian fossil record thus holds great potential for augmenting paleobiological knowledge of this crucial period on Earth and for developing more robust hypotheses regarding possible origins and evolutionary pathways of biospheres on other planets.