Sedimentary structures II
Biogenic Sedimentary Structures
Ichnofossils:We have discussed trace fossils - records of organismal activity. To a sedimentologist, these are, effectively, sedimentary structures created by critters and are used to infer depositional environment the same as other sed structures. The most common are tracks and burrows. Properly known as ichnofossils, they are studied by ichnologists. These give useful clues to the depositional environment, in particular to water depth and chemistry.
"Taxonomy:" By tradition, identifiable trace fossil forms are given Linnean binomials: "ichnogenus" and "ichnospecies" (and "ichnofamily" and so on), E.G. Trychophycus pedum. Of course, unlike real organisms, they don't represent a nested hiearchy based on patterns of descent!! Indeed:
- Two distinct biological species can produce the same ichnospecies.
- Conversely, an individual critter can produce various ichnospecies in its life, as its activity and the substrate it moves across change.
So, if traces themselves don't evolve and speciate. What does the hierarchy of ichnotaxomony actually represent? There really are two distinct hierarchies:
- Groups by behavior
- Groups by depositional environment
Groups by behavior:Examples:
- resting traces - cubichnia (E.G.: starfish)
- dwelling traces - domichnia
- locomotion traces - repichnia
- grazing traces - paschichnia
- "farming" traces - agrichnia
- deposit feeding traces - fodichnia
Ichnofossils as facies fossils:
Groups by environment:Recall that a sedimentary facies is characteristic association of sedimentary rock features linked to a distinct sedimentary environment. Applying that concept to trace fossil assemblages, we get ichnofacies - characteristic assemblages of distinct ichnotaxa often found together in particular environments. These are given technical "ichnofacies" names based on some characteristic ichnofossil. The chart above shows the sequence near a rocky shore. Near a sandy shore, we see the following typical:
- Frequent high sediment
- Burrows are deep but may often need to be abandoned or repaired.
- Common ichnofossils:
- Skolithos - A.k.a. "piperock." Long simple vertical burrows. last appears in the Cretaceous.
- Ophiomorpha - Vertical burrow reinforced by fecal pellets. Today, Ophiomorpha is made by the ghost shrimp Callianassa,
- Diplocraterion - U-shaped burrows made by a worm-shaped organism like acorn-worms (enteropneusts).
- Cruziana - Trilobite feeding traces.
- Thalassinoides - networks of shallow tunnels - shelter and mining of sediment for nutrients.
- Zoophycos - Complex arcuate three-dimensional feeding traces
- Phycosiphon - Branching three-dimensional feeding trace
- Spirophyton - Spiraling helix-shaped feeding burrow.
Ichnofossils as index fossils:
Insights from ichnofossils:
Taucari trace fossil from Live Science
- The earliest unambiguous trace fossil is from the Ediacaran Period, a horizontal surface trace made by a worm-like organism. (right) Traces that are unambiguously from actual bilaterian animals date from the Ediacaran.
Climactichnites from Wikipedia
- Cambrian Substrate Revolution: During the Early Cambrian, surface locomotion traces like Climactichnites (right) reflected the activity of surface grazers that left the sub-surface sediments essentially unidsturbed. As the Middle Cambrian approached, a fundamental change occurred as proper burrows appeared, and it became common for sediments to become significantly bioturbated. (Compare unbioturbated and bioturbated sediment in otherwise similar depositional settings.)
- Complexity: Over the course of the Early Paleozoic, simple horizontal burrows give way to complex deposit feeding and "farming" traces.
- Invasion of new environments: Over the Paleozoic, ichnofacies typically appear in shallow marine environments (hospitable to life) and spread into more challenging environments (transitional and continental environments, and the deep oceans).
Paleodictyon as fossil trace
- The post-Paleozoic world: From the Permian onward, the distribution of ichnofacies has held constant with one exception: the proliferation of the Nereites facies in the deep oceans. Maybe the post-Paleozoic oceans have more nutrients, or the deep oceans receive more sediments, or organisms have simply become more competent at living down there. One deep ocean enigma: Paleodictyon hexagonal network of mucus-lined burrows with numerous vertical shafts. The last known fossil occurance is about 50 My, however non-fossil examples have been recently spotted by submersibles!. The Paleodictyon-maker is still alive!
Stromatolite in cross-section
An organo-sedimentary structure produced by sediment trapping, binding, and or precipitation as a result of the growth and metabolic activity of micro-organisms, principally bacterial mats of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae). These have a variety of gross forms, from nearly horizontal to markedly columnar, domed or subspherical. Morphology is more likely to be ecophenotypic (i.e. an indicator of environmental conditions) than strictly genetic. Today, these typically form in carbonate-dominated environments lacking metazoans that might graze on them (because of hypersalinity, rapid current flow, etc.). The classic example: Shark Bay, Western Australia.
Stromatolites appear ~3.0 Ga and are common until roughly 1 Ga. They nevertheless persist throughout the Phanerozoic.
How we imagine the fauna of the Ediacaran from the Melbourne Museum