The taphonomic fate of isorenieratene in Lower Jurassic shales-controlled by iron?

Geobiology. 2018 May;16(3):237-251. doi: 10.1111/gbi.12284. Epub 2018 Mar 22.


Fossil derivatives of isorenieratene, an accessory pigment in brown-colored green sulfur bacteria, are often used as tracers for photic zone anoxia through Earth's history, but their diagenetic behavior is still incompletely understood. Here, we assess the preservation of isorenieratene derivatives in organic-rich shales (1.5-8.4 wt.% TOC) from two Lower Jurassic anoxic systems (Bächental oil shale, Tyrol, Austria; Posidonia Shale, Baden-Württemberg, Germany). Bitumens and kerogens were investigated using catalytic hydropyrolysis (HyPy), closed-system hydrous pyrolysis (in gold capsules), gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and gas chromatography combustion isotope ratio-mass spectrometry (GC-C-IRMS). Petrography and biomarkers indicate a syngenetic relationship between bitumens and kerogens. All bitumens contain abundant isorenieratane, diverse complex aromatized isorenieratene derivatives, and a pseudohomologous series of 2,3,6-trimethyl aryl isoprenoids. In contrast, HyPy and mild closed-system hydrous pyrolysis of the kerogens yielded only minor amounts of these compounds. Given the overall low maturity of the organic matter (below oil window), it appears that isorenieratene and its abundant derivatives from the bitumen had not been incorporated into the kerogens. Accordingly, sulfur cross-linking, the key mechanism for sequestration of functionalized lipids into kerogens in anoxic systems, was not effective in the Jurassic environments studied. We explain this by (i) early cyclization/aromatization and (ii) hydrogenation reactions that have prevented effective sulfurization. In addition, (iii) sulfide was locally removed via anoxygenic photosynthesis and efficiently trapped by the reaction with sedimentary iron, as further indicated by elevated iron contents (4.0-8.7 wt.%) and the presence of abundant pyrite aggregates in the rock matrix. Although the combined processes have hampered the kerogen incorporation of isorenieratene and its derivatives, they may have promoted the long-term preservation of these biomarkers in the bitumen fraction via early defunctionalization. This particular taphonomy of aromatic carotenoids has to be considered in studies of anoxic iron-rich environments (e.g., the Proterozoic ocean).

Keywords: Bächental; Posidonia Shale; Proterozoic ocean; biomarkers; catalytic hydropyrolysis (HyPy); kerogen.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Austria
  • Carotenoids / metabolism*
  • Chlorobi / chemistry*
  • Fossils*
  • Geologic Sediments / chemistry*
  • Germany
  • Hypoxia
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Phenols / metabolism*
  • Pigments, Biological / metabolism*
  • Spectrum Analysis


  • Phenols
  • Pigments, Biological
  • isorenieratene
  • Carotenoids
  • Iron