Isotopic and REE evidence for the paleoenvironmental evolution of the late Ediacaran Dengying Section, Ningqiang of Shaanxi Province, China

Pu Zhang, Hong Hua, Weiguo Liu

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Weakly mineralized taxa are most likely the ancestors of higher organisms that existed during the Cambrian explosion, thereby representing an important yet least understood evolutionary link between simple and complex life. An investigation of the seawater temperature and the carbon cycle during the late Ediacaran, in the time span of the emergence of weakly mineralized taxa, contributes to the deeper understanding of the environmental conditions existing during the early stages of animal skeleton mineralization. Towards this end, we conducted the analyses on the carbon and oxygen isotope composition, petrography, major elements, and trace elements, involving the rare earth elements (REEs) variations in the carbonate rocks of Ningqiang County in Shaanxi Province of China. The samples from the Dengying Formation (Fm.) include the Gaojiashan and Beiwan Members, in ascending order. In addition, the Gaojiashan Member hosts one of the most diverse collections of biota with weakly mineralized skeletons discovered to date. Our data shows that a positive carbon excursion, high δ18O values, positive correlation between δ13C and δ18O values, high REE concentrations, a distinctive MREE-enriched pattern, high Fe concentrations and slightly negative Ce anomalies in the Gaojiashan Member. These evidences indicate a restricted warm sea environment with an influx of river water or groundwater. Conversely, the low carbon isotope values, high δ18O values and its heterogeneity, the absence of correlation between carbon and oxygen, combined with a seawater-like REE distribution pattern in the Beiwan Member suggested that a restrict, shallow, slightly cool and/or arid sea environment condition that was subject to periodic perturbations in the hydrologic balance. Therefore, we surmised that the environmental differences between the Gaojiashan and the Beiwan Members probably resulted in the preservation of a number of animal skeleton fossils in the middle section of the Dengying Fm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)96-111
Number of pages16
JournalPrecambrian Research
StatePublished - Mar 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank the editors and anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments that have improved the quality and exposition of this paper. This research was supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos. 41030209 and 41203003 ), the National Key Basic Research Program of China (No. 2013CB835001 ), China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (No. 2013M530432 ), the Project Supported by Natural Science Basic Research Plan in Shaanxi Province of China (No. 2013JQ5006 ), Specialized Research Fund for the Doctoral Program of Higher Education of China (No. 20126101120001 ) and State Key Laboratory of Continental Dynamics, and Department of Geology, Northwest University (No. Bj12139 ).


  • Carbon isotope chemostratigraphy
  • Dengying Fm.
  • Environmental change
  • Late Ediacaran
  • Oxygen isotope chemostratigraphy
  • Rare earth elements (REEs)


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