Tasmania’s untouched South-West wilderness has been a haven for an ancient life form for billions of years.
A team of Tasmanian researchers from Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment department and University of Tasmania uncovered stromatolites while surveying swampy wetlands in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.
Stromatolites are laminated structures of micro-organisms that create layers of minerals using elements dissolved in water.
This is the first stromatolite discovery in Tasmania, geoscientist Rolan Eberhard from the department’s Natural and Cultural Heritage Division said.
“Stromatolites come in a lot of shapes and sizes. Some are quite small so you could easily walk on them and not realise you’re walking on some of the oldest life forms on Earth,” Mr Eberhard said.
“They are the oldest possible evidence of life on Earth and first appeared 3.7 billion years ago when organic molecules coalesced,” he said.
Stromatolite habitat is a spring mound where unusual aqueous geochemical minerals are dissolves in water.
“Stromatolites ruled Earth for millions of years. They survived by living in places where other organisms could not live, like very salty lagoons. They are extraordinary survivors,” Mr Eberhard said.
Tasmania’s stromatolites were discovered north of Port Davey, around 100 kilometres from the nearest road.
“It was an incidental discovery during an investigation of peat-bound karstic wetlands. These wetlands only occur in South-West Tasmania,” Mr Eberhard said.
“We’re pretty excited because we weren’t aware they were here,” he said.
The Tasmanian researchers found the stromatolites two years ago, but the organisms had to be confirmed and DNA tested before the discovery was made public.
An academic paper on the stromatolite discovery, which was co-authored by Mr Eberhard, Dr Bernadette Proemse and their combined research team, was published in the journal Scientific Reports this week.