Unravelling the enigmatic origin of calcitic nanofibres in soils and caves: purely physicochemical or biogenic processes?
- 1Institute of Earth Surface Dynamics, University of Lausanne, Geopolis, 1015 Lausanne, Switzerland
- 2Laboratory of Microbiology, Institute of Biology, University of Neuchâtel, Rue Emile Argand 11, 2009, Switzerland
- 3Laboratory of Biomechanics and Biocalorimetry, Biozentrum/Pharmazentrum, University of Basel, Klingelbergstr. 50–70, 4056 Basel, Switzerland
- *present address: Laboratory of Microbiology, Institute of Biology, University of Neuchâtel, Rue Emile Argand 11, 2009, Switzerland
- **present address: Institut für Mineralogie, Universität Münster, Corrensstr. 24, 48149 Münster, Germany
Abstract. Calcitic nanofibres are ubiquitous habits of secondary calcium carbonate (CaCO3) accumulations observed in calcareous vadose environments. Despite their widespread occurrence, the origin of these nanofeatures remains enigmatic. Three possible mechanisms fuel the debate: (i) purely physicochemical processes, (ii) mineralization of rod-shaped bacteria, and (iii) crystal precipitation on organic templates. Nanofibres can be either mineral (calcitic) or organic in nature. They are very often observed in association with needle fibre calcite (NFC), another typical secondary CaCO3 habit in terrestrial environments. This association has contributed to some confusion between both habits, however they are truly two distinct calcitic features and their recurrent association is likely to be an important fact to help understanding the origin of nanofibres. In this paper the different hypotheses that currently exist to explain the origin of calcitic nanofibres are critically reviewed. In addition to this, a new hypothesis for the origin of nanofibres is proposed based on the fact that current knowledge attributes a fungal origin to NFC. As this feature and nanofibres are recurrently observed together, a possible fungal origin for nanofibres which are associated with NFC is investigated. Sequential enzymatic digestion of the fungal cell wall of selected fungal species demonstrates that the fungal cell wall can be a source of organic nanofibres. The obtained organic nanofibres show a striking morphological resemblance when compared to their natural counterparts, emphasizing a fungal origin for part of the organic nanofibres observed in association with NFC. It is further hypothesized that these organic nanofibres may act as templates for calcite nucleation in a biologically influenced mineralization process, generating calcitic nanofibres. This highlights the possible involvement of fungi in CaCO3 biomineralization processes, a role still poorly documented. Moreover, on a global scale, the organomineralization of organic nanofibres into calcitic nanofibres might be an overlooked process deserving more attention to specify its impact on the biogeochemical cycles of both Ca and C.