Magadiite, a rare hydrous sodium-silicate mineral [NaSi7O13(OH)3·4(H2O)], was discovered about 50 years ago in sediments around Lake Magadi, a hypersaline alkaline lake fed by hot springs in the semi-arid southern Kenya Rift Valley. Today this harsh lacustrine environment excludes most organisms except microbial extremophiles, a few invertebrates (mostly insects), highly adapted fish (Alcolapia sp.), and birds including flamingos. Burrows discovered in outcrops of the High Magadi Beds (~25–9 ka) that predate the modern saline (trona) pan show that beetles and other invertebrates inhabit this extreme environment when conditions become more favourable. Burrows (cm-scale) preserved in magadiite in the High Magadi Beds are filled with mud, silt and sand from overlying sediments. Their stratigraphic context reveals upward-shallowing cycles from mud to interlaminated mud-magadiite to magadiite in dm-scale units. The burrows were formed when the lake floor became fresher and oxygenated, after a period when magadiite precipitated in shallow saline waters. The burrows, probably produced by beetles, show that trace fossils can provide evidence for short-term (possibly years to decades) changes in the contemporary environment that might not otherwise be recognised or preserved physically or chemically in the sediment record.
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