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Taphonomic windows and molluscan preservation

Cherns, Lesley, Wheeley, James Robinson and Wright, Victor Paul 2008. Taphonomic windows and molluscan preservation. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 270 (3-4) , pp. 220-229. 10.1016/j.palaeo.2008.07.012

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Abstract

Recent studies on silicified fossil biotas have suggested that substantial skewing of the molluscan record resulted from early aragonite dissolution in mid-outer carbonate ramp settings. If those rare skeletal lagerstätten are representative, then the quality and completeness of the molluscan record are thrown into doubt. Yet database studies suggest that the bivalve fossil record is actually relatively complete. If so, then biodiversity must be captured by other processes that preserved shells vulnerable to early dissolution, and which operated on a relatively high frequency, i.e., less than the species duration for bivalves. Storm beds, shell plasters and submarine hardgrounds are identified as fossil deposits that can preserve the labile aragonitic component of the fauna and thus represent potential taphonomic windows. Many storm event beds include rich accumulations of shelly benthos. Differences between storm bed faunas and those of the background facies could reflect transportation effects. However, some storm bed assemblages are rich in originally aragonitic infaunal bivalves that are not represented in background facies or more proximal shelf equivalents, and here rapid burial and removal of organic matter by winnowing may be the keys to aragonite shell preservation. Despite Palaeozoic to Cenozoic changes in the thickness and frequency of shell beds that reflect the predominant bioclast producers, shallow infaunas are commonly concentrated together with epifauna in such deposits. Some low energy, organic-rich mud-dominated settings are associated with preservation of aragonitic molluscs. Infaunal bivalves are a prominent component of shell plasters or pavements in such settings, linked to episodic bottom water anoxia. Decaying algal blooms drew the redox boundary up above the sediment–water interface, and brought populations of infaunal bivalves to the surface where they died. Isolated from the oxic taphonomically active zone, the shells were not dissolved and were buried as thin shell layers. In similar settings, aragonitic shells were preserved as moulds through early pyritisation, or even through preservation of original shell aragonite. In oxic environments, bioturbational reworking of surface sediment destroyed moulds of aragonitic shells after early dissolution. In some hardgrounds, these delicate moulds were preserved due to synsedimentary cementation, probably using carbonate released by aragonite dissolution. The examples included here come from both intervals of “calcite” and “aragonite” seas, and it is not possible to assess whether the saturation state (with respect to aragonite) of the ambient sea water played a role in the selective removal of aragonitic shells. While taphonomic windows may have captured the diversity of individual groups, it is clear from quantitative data involving skeletal lagerstätten that the scale of loss from early aragonite dissolution has drastically altered the trophic composition of some fossil assemblages commonly used as the basis for reconstructions of past communities.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Earth and Ocean Sciences
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GC Oceanography
Q Science > QE Geology
Uncontrolled Keywords: Taphonomy; Molluscs; Aragonite dissolution; Biofacies; Fossil record
Publisher: Elsevier
ISSN: 0031-0182
Last Modified: 03 Apr 2018 20:43
URI: http://orca.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/10041

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